It’s not too often we hear the words positivity and climate together these days, but around the world, despite the devastating impact of Covid-19, young people with drive and vision are having real impact with innovative climate justice initiatives. Here, former Irish president, campaigner and recipient of Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award outlines why there is cause for positivity when it comes to protecting our planet.
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, has been a leading high-profile activist in the fight for climate change over recent years and has led many awards and initiatives focussed on young people and their ongoing struggle against climate change. She cares particularly about climate injustice and the huge inequality climate change has on people around the world.
Yet, there is however a glimmer of hope, from marginalised groups making a difference to the environment. For the fifth year, Robinson has teamed up with One Young World for the Climate Justice Award – created to recognise and support young leaders behind impactful climate justice initiatives that are preserving the earth for future generations. Here she talks about the amazing work they are doing…
Climate change is not a distant threat. Its effects are already being felt right now by millions around the world. The past five years were hotter than any other time in recorded history and we are already seeing more extreme weather, chronic droughts, and food insecurity. Countries only have a limited time in which to act if the world is to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
Unjustly, it is often the people who are the most affected by climate change who are the least responsible for its causes and the least well equipped to deal with its effects.
The start of the new decade certainly presented itself with a plethora of challenges beyond the climate crisis. In 2020, while the Covid-19 pandemic dominated the agenda the climate crisis did not abate. Yet, against this backdrop, I began to feel more hopeful about the climate emergency than I had in a long time. 2020 showed us that in times of great suffering and challenge there is also still the potential for courage and innovation, compassion and collaboration.
Following the large-scale climate strikes of 2019, 2020 saw an irrepressible surge in the battle for climate justice at a grassroots level. In many cases, it has been the leadership of young people from some of the poorest and most impacted corners of the globe that has challenged the status quo.
I am proud to be able to recognise some of these admirable young people through The Mary Robinson Climate Justice Award in collaboration with One Young World. It is these young people who represent the kind of ingenuity, adaptability and creativity we need to tackle the climate crisis.
One such example is Swietenia Puspa Lestari from Indonesia, who started Divers Clean Action. Swietenia has developed a proper waste management system to clean up rubbish from the reefs and coastlines in south-east Asia.
To date, she has mobilised a team of 1,500 volunteers who are removing rubbish from the beaches in Indonesia. In response to the pandemic, Swietenia hired thousands of people who could no longer work in coastal tourism to clean up the rise of plastic in the ocean.
Emmanuel Niyoyabikoze, founder of Greening Burundi, is making a significant contribution in turning the tide on desertification. Initially starting a small tree-planting project, he has planted over 300,000 trees in his region and is planning on reaching one million by the end of next year. His attention has now turned to electric bicycles that will be used to transport the trees during tree plantation.
Since the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017, Amira Odeh (pictured above) has led vital reforestation projects across Puerto Rico, building tree parks to enable access to nutritious fruit all year round. To date she has led on the development of nine parks and plans to build 15 more. Amira has already felt the impacts of climate change and is standing up to ensure her island is protected going forward.
The importance of culture and society is interwoven into the climate debate. In Samoa, hand-crafted mats have a very high cultural significance in the community. Petronilla Molio’o leads the Fala Masi Revival Project, providing valuable employment opportunities to young people in Samoa by reviving traditional native handicraft skills and recycling waste. By using waste and out of it creating something useful, she is empowering young mothers with new skills and engaging the community in environmental action at a local level.
Lalita Purbhoo-Junggee, the founder of Eco Hustle, an eco-start-up based in Mauritius, is a great example of a woman taking the lead of environmentalism. The island nation produces more than 300,000 square meters of billboards and banners annually, but when the advertising campaigns come to an end the materials are often discarded. Since launching in April 2017, the organisation has rescued over 62,000 square meters of billboards, which have been used to manufacture 13,000 bags, creating new jobs in the process. This year, the organisation has expanded to create other items such as biodegradable sanitary pads.
The dual-threat of the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis remains of grave concern. It is vital that we recognise that those living on the frontline of climate change – small island states, indigenous peoples, women and youth – have much to teach us all as we tackle this unprecedented existential threat. We see the green shoots of hope in projects like these, created by young people living in some of the most climate-vulnerable communities around the world. We should celebrate their efforts – they should spur us all on to do what we can.
Images courtesy of One Young World