Stories From the Youth Climate Movement in the Global South
By Inés M. Pousadela
In early 2020, as millions went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the environment experienced temporary relief from the impacts of human activity. As skies cleared and birds and animals claimed city spaces, it became apparent that the young people who had mobilized for the climate across the world in 2019 were right: Much environmental damage is the result of human action, and as such, can also be reversed through human initiative.
The experience of 2020 has made clear that whether the threat is climate change or a pandemic, humanity won't survive its challenges unless people act collectively on the basis of scientific consensus.
Before the pandemic hit, the climate emergency had made headlines and had become part of everyday conversation. It all started when one determined young girl, then 15 years old, walked out of school and staged a solo protest outside her country's parliament. But it wasn't a solo protest for long, because hundreds of thousands of young people quickly took up the initiative.
Driven by inspiration rather than imitation, young people throughout the Global South organized their own local climate actions, feeding into the global climate movement. They used this global platform to draw attention to—and infuse new energy into—long-standing, under-acknowledged Indigenous movements defending land, water, and air against extractive industries and agribusiness.
In Ghana, Perk Pomeyie of the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement used graphic design and social media to mobilize young people around #FridaysforFuture and #SchoolClimateStrike. He also collaborated with the International Youth Climate Movement in the region to mobilize during the United Nations' Africa Climate Week in Accra in March 2019. "As a grassroots activist in Ghana, this was the first time I gained a strong personal conviction that my work in the little corner of my community has a potential to cause change at the top, if supported with the right tools, capacity, and resources," he explained.
Across the Global South, activists have adapted their tactics to their local situations, all while shaking off delegitimization attempts that characterized the climate movement as driven by privileged people from the Global North.
"Although it is a very progressive thing to hold strikes in Global North countries, in a country like Sudan, going to school is a privilege for a lot of students. It doesn't make any sense for people to strike from a school they got into after a huge struggle," said Nisreen Al Sayeem, of the Sudan Youth Organization on Climate Change and Youth and Environment. "Young people in Sudan are taking three different paths for climate action: policy, activism—including advocacy, campaigning, and work in civil society organizations—and community-based work."
The latest State of Civil Society Report from CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, puts the spotlight on this rising generation of young climate leaders, who are giving fresh impetus to persistent struggles in countries including Colombia, Ghana, and Sudan. They may not have received the same media attention as Greta Thunberg, but these youth activists are every bit as committed, engaged, and important.
In their collective undertaking, these climate leaders have cast aside stereotypes of young people as impulsive and immature. They have come to embody the voice of reason by embracing science, encouraging evidence-based decision-making, and challenging disinformation. They are offering a lesson to their governments on what it means to act responsibly.
Young people face considerable risks when they take action in countries where civic and democratic freedoms aren't widely respected, and where environmental, Indigenous, and land rights activists have long experienced violent and even lethal repression. One young environmental activist from Colombia vividly described the dangers he faces daily in a country where "people live in a state of incredible anxiety due to the systematic murders of social and environmental leaders," leaving them "afraid to speak, organize, and protest." Demonstrating how dangerous climate activism can be, he asked not to be named for security reasons.
One way in which young climate leaders try to mitigate such dangers is by building alliances that may offer safety in numbers, and by connecting their domestic struggles to global climate concerns. In Colombia, major domestic issues are deforestation and population displacement, linked to the troubled implementation of the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas, which sought to put an end to a half-century-long armed conflict.
Climate activism in Colombia received a boost during the mass anti-government protests that erupted in November 2019, as climate activists encouraged protesters to embrace environmental demands. "In a country where people are afraid to speak," said the Colombian activist, the fact that millions took to the streets in what was considered the largest mobilization in several decades was "a unique opportunity" for the climate movement to push its agenda. "We may not be able to mobilize people specifically around climate, but we can take advantage of these mass mobilizations and put our issues out there … so that they understand that our issues also concern them and they start mobilizing for them as well."
In this activist's experience, global inspiration led to local action, which in turn led to participation in regional processes to build a Latin American climate network. These regional efforts then led to the creation of a national environmental network, bringing together young people from all over the country to work for climate action. Still a work in progress, the national environmental network succeeded in getting the protest movement to include among its demands the declaration of a national climate emergency. Coming full circle, Colombia's national environmental network now also views global policy-making arenas as a battleground for future struggles.
Climate activism happens simultaneously at all levels, connecting the local to the global—from the streets of Bogotá and Manila to the sites of environmental damage in Bangladesh and Nepal, to high-level international forums such as the United Nations. In country after country, climate activists operate within institutional systems, and employ disruption tactics when necessary and possible, to communicate their message: The climate is in crisis, and going back to business as usual after the pandemic is not acceptable.
The climate movement has suspended street action because of COVID-19, but activism continues online. The movement has already succeeded in turning a political nonissue into an urgent agenda item. Now the pressure is on to promote a green recovery from the pandemic, countering the existing inertia to pursue a carbon-fueled dash for growth.
When it comes to the key decisions that will shape human lives in the post-pandemic world, this new generation of activists will continue to pressure decision-makers into giving them a future worth fighting for.
INÉS M. POUSADELA is a Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report 2020. She has written several books and articles on political representation, social mobilization, participation and accountability, and civil society.
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
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For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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