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COP26 must deliver global climate justice

Dr Mya-Rose Craig (aka Birdgirl) is a young British Bangladeshi who is a birder, naturalist, conservationist, environmentalist, race activist, writer, speaker and broadcaster. She has travelled all her life, visiting all seven continents when she was 13 years old, giving her a global perspective on conservation and the needs of indigenous peoples. She writes posts about birding, nature, stopping climate breakdown, conservation and stopping species loss, other environmental issues, and racism from around the world. She has been birding all her life with her parents and sister and obtained her BTO Bird ringing licence at aged 16. She has been highlighting the urgent need to tackle climate change since she was eight years old, raising the issue with pupils, teachers in school and local people. In February 2020 Mya-Rose became the youngest person to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Bristol University for her five years of campaigning for diversity in the environmental sector.

 

We are facing a climate emergency – but one which must be framed as an ethical issue rather than a purely environmental one. As a UN blog describes it, ‘The impacts of climate change will not be borne equally or fairly, between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations.’ As a result, COP26 must deliver global climate justice with a ‘just transition’.


Global climate justice focuses on climate change through the lens of how it will affect different people and places unevenly thus leading to inequalities within and across countries. Stopping climate change is an essential part of reducing injustice and inequality in our world, and achieving a just transition approach ensures the affected people are considered by those making decisions.


Successive COPs have failed to deliver this, and virtually every week brings devastation from extreme weather, wildfires, floods and drought to people around the world. For over 350 million Indigenous Peoples around the world, climate change impacts are earlier and more severe due to where they live. My family in Bangladesh are living in a country where uneven rainfall and flooding are creating great uncertainty for a whole farming community, and by 2050, it is predicted that one in seven people in the country will be displaced by climate breakdown.


This is a climate emergency created by the Global North, but it is people in the Global South – most significantly Indigenous Peoples and People of Colour – who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. So far, the mainstream environmental movement has failed to understand or address this injustice. When I got the opportunity to write an environmental children’s book, I wanted the book to contain interviews with people that weren’t getting that platform from the mainstream media. The book – called We Have a Dream – is a call to arms, featuring interviews with thirty young People of Colour and Indigenous Peoples from around the world, and charts their dreams for the future of the planet. Almost all the interviewees in We Have a Dream are affected by climate change in their day-to-day life. They have to fight for clean drinking water. They have to stand up to oil companies trying to put pipelines across their land. They have to plant trees to protect their country’s forests. They have been aware of these issues and have been fighting since they were young children, and yet their voices still aren’t being heard.



And while conversations are a great way to spread big ideas, governments and companies must act. Seventy percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions over the previous two decades are linked to just one hundred fossil fuel producers, and yet people are told that solving the climate crisis is solely a matter of individual behavioural change. As important as our individual efforts are, from recycling to eating less meat, they can distract attention away from the role governments and companies have in making systemic changes. Our collective future depends on the decisions of our Members of Parliament, local councillors and city mayors, and they must engage with marginalized communities. Indigenous communities from around the world have long had sustainable existences and as a result are often the most engaged with our planet. This means that they are the first and most directly affected by shifts in the natural order – and should be at the forefront of the decision-making process.


Time is running out, and COP26 must listen to as diverse a selection of people as possible, so their voices are heard in the global conversation and climate change is tackled in an equal and just way.

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