No time to lose – collective action for our common future full transcript
Host:[00:00:05] You are listening to Make Change Happen, the podcast from IIED, the International Institute for Environment and Development. In this episode, host Liz Carlile and guests look ahead to 2021 as a super year for international action on environment and development challenges.
Liz Carlile:[00:00:28] Hello and welcome to our New Year edition of Make Change Happen from IIED. I’m your host today, I’m Liz Carlile and I’m the director of communications. Well, I know we’re all hoping that 2021 will see better times, will perhaps see opportunities where we can really work collectively across the globe to make change happen for the better.
We have the climate change Conference of the Parties and we also have the biodiversity Conference of the Parties, and of course we hope that a successful vaccine will help solve the pandemic. And we also hope that this will be equitably shared out across the globe at the start of this new recovery phase.
So, for our New Year edition, I’m lucky to have with me three guests with some interesting and different perspectives on the changes that this next year could bring. We have Ineza Umehoza Grace, who is based in Rwanda and she’s an African eco-feminist working on climate change. She’s the founder and chief executive officer at the Green Fighter and she works on the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition.
This is a very strong message that youth inclusion should take us beyond advocacy and conference participation – it’s about collective action for change.
We have Dr Tara Shine who’s, for us, very luckily, the chair of our board of trustees and she’s also the director of Change by Degrees, a social enterprise that brings global sustainability expertise and real world solutions to organisations big and small. She’s author of How to Save Your Planet One Object at a Time, published last year in April 2020 by Simon and Schuster. Tara’s work is in constant pursuit of fairness between people and the planet.
And, if you haven’t yet had the benefit of listening to Tara’s lecture, she was one of three scientists giving the UK’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on a Users’ Guide to Planet Earth. And she will be able to be heard on the Royal Institution website from February, so look out for that one.
Last but not least, I have with us Andy Norton, who’s the director of IIED. He’s an applied anthropologist and social scientist and has worked on a range of issues related to social and environmental justice, worked extensively on poverty, gender, social analysis and human rights in development practice, so I know we will get lots of great views.
Liz Carlile: [00:03:18] Perhaps to start us off, Andy, you could give us a glance back on what was 2020.
Andy Norton: [00:03:24] Thanks very much, Liz. Yeah, I think the big picture lesson that I take from 2020 is that massive change is possible. We saw a change in response to the pandemic in countries that were heavily affected in health terms and those that weren’t, beyond, I think, anything anyone would have imagined possible in advance.
International travel virtually ceasing, obviously lots of economic activity shut down. Huge changes in behaviours as well as policy, so it was really a lesson that we shouldn’t always assume that change can only be slow and incremental and what people are more or less comfortable with.
And so my hope, going forward, is that we can attack the climate crisis and the global crisis, biodiversity and nature loss with that same energy. If we do that on the climate front then clearly hitting the right target from the Paris Agreement of 1.5 degrees of warming would be possible. That’s really clear, and really important.
Three lessons also from 2020 about what we’ve seen in the pandemic: the first is, obviously, the importance of listening to the science, which applies multiple times to the global crises of biodiversity loss and the climate crisis; the second one is that early action really matters – we’ve seen that those countries that moved swiftly and also kept a track of what was happening as it went along and were agile and responsive did much better than other countries.
And the final one, and perhaps the most important, is the importance of social justice cross-cutting all of this. We’ve seen these really significant impacts of the pandemic on inequality, the data is kind of lagging behind the reality there but we know that there have been very severe gender impacts where women in many environments have taken the brunt of the impacts, but we also know that, for example, those in the informal sector or in the gig economy or in casual work have not had the protection that those who’ve got regular jobs have had.
So massive impacts on inequality and also we need to look forward and anticipate that there’s going to be an international country by country dimension of that through the build-up of debt that is inevitable at the country level.
In relation to IIED, I think it’s similar in a sense, that we pivoted incredibly energetically and quickly to a world without flights, to home-working. We found new ways of working with partners, which were challenging but also exciting. And also, we are in process of establishing IIED-Europe, which will be based in the Netherlands, which is also exciting.
Liz: [00:06:20] So, a lot, a lot going on. But of course everyone’s experience of 2020 has been very different. Ineza, tell us what this has meant for you and in particular for Green Fighter.
Ineza: [00:06:34] Thank you. First I would like to give a short description about who we are, The Green Fighter. So, The Green Fighter is a Rwandan female-led NGO operating in Rwanda with a mission to contribute to the creation of a better involvement in the community through youth commitment and engagement.
We started in 2017 and we’re still going, and this year of 2020 has been a lesson learning for us especially because we get to experience the pandemic, the COVID-19. Speaking for the fact that I’m based in Africa, in Rwanda, I can say that our experience about the global pandemic is a bit different.
Yes, COVID threatened our economy and the community health, but nothing can be divesting for me than the impact of the climate change, because flood and drought, the loss of infrastructure and the loss of people is really something that moves my heart, when you see people being forced to move from their house to another place in the middle of the night.
For example, in like March, there was this rain in Rwanda and this was in the middle of the pandemic, but we had to stop the global fear of catching COVID because we had to move people from one location to another so that we can save as much of our citizens.
So I can say, the global pandemic only is a reminder that our earth is connected and is a reminder that the global crisis is also connected. Even if people tend to forget that, we in the global South community who are much more exposed and we cannot think about a solution in the climate change if we don’t see how it’s going to be safe for our community in terms of achieving a proper education, even sustainable development.
Liz: [00:08:44] Ineza, thank you, that’s a really nice example of how priorities are very, very different in different places. And it’s really good to hear you keep that level of priority on climate change, and we know how important that is for you and your organisation. It’s great to hear that that energy’s there. What do you think are maybe one or two things you’re going to be focusing on this next year?
Ineza: [00:09:11] That’s a good question, but before I give what I’ll be focusing on the next year, this year of 2021, I would like to say what was the experience that we had as the youth in this 2020. So first, speaking on the side that we as a youth organisation, we had to first create our capacity internally in order to be able to deliver our action on the ground.
This means that we had to learn much more about capacity building and project management and project design, because we believe, we act to prove that youth inclusion should be much more, much more done for conference participation or event participation or even awareness, because we can do much more on the ground.
So we learned much more about how to design a project – how can youth design a community-based project and be the frontline in implementation? We ended the year with good news because we were selected, through the Global Environmental Facilities Small Grant Programme, we were one of the selected organisations. But in 2020 we were not able to implement because of the pandemic.
In the year of 2020 we get to realise that we were pushed to think much more as a country, as a continent, and we came to realise that there is much more of a gap, especially in addressing the loss and damage, for the vulnerable communities. So in 2020 we started what is known as today, the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition. Basically, it’s a coalition between the global North and the global South youth coming together to ask for climate justice.
So what we do, we train the youth to understand what is the loss and damage, for example the most of the countries in Africa, the loss and damage is mistaken as a natural disaster, so we cannot provide information to get to know exactly what is the loss and damage and what is the role of every, every individual. Even if you are from the global North or the global South, you have a role to play.
And also we are creating, we want to create a fair fight, but what I mean by a fair fight is like to have a community voice on every decision table from the local and international level.
Liz: [00:11:41] So that’s a really, that’s a really powerful direction for the year and I might move us now to Tara Shine. Tara, does your experience tell us that what Ineza is saying about that importance of focus and drive, how does that speak to what you’re thinking for this year?
Tara: [00:12:04] Thanks, Liz. It’s really inspiring to hear about the work that Ineza’s doing with Green Fighter in Rwanda and that young people there are insisting not just on participation in having their voices heard in decision making, but also running and implementing their own projects.
And I think it’s that focus on action that’s really, really required now. We just need to not waste another single month or week of sitting around thinking about what we might do on climate change, we need to be doing. As the IPCC reminds us – every degree and every part of a degree of warming matters.
And so, turn that the other way up, it means that every week, every month that we can be taking action on climate change, reducing emissions and building resilience, particularly in the most vulnerable communities, is so, so important.
I am heartened to see momentum growing on climate change. I worried, I guess, like many did in March, April time, would the pandemic push climate change right off the agenda? Even though I knew it was still there as a risk and as Ineza told us, even while we were struggling with the pandemic, countries right around the world, especially some of the least developed countries and small island states, were being hit over and over again by climate impacts, and they were having to deal with both types of disaster at once – both the COVID-19 crisis and indeed with climate impacts.
So finding a way to continue to have that long-term focus on wherever we want to get to by 2050, to getting to net zero emissions and building much more resilient communities, but also increasing the ambition between now and 2030, with a really strong focus on the SDGs and on the inter-linkages between climate, biodiversity, oceans, food – all of these things that are on the agenda in 2021 in terms of international summits – I think that’s going to be really important.
Liz: [00:13:58] So expectations are high? I mean, are we going to see these met – what do you think?
Tara: [00:14:05] Well that’s up to the esteemed leaders of our countries and the governments that work with them. But what I do think we need to see more of is a sense of solidarity. What we need now is collective leadership, collaborative leadership.
Whilst it is great to see individual countries for example leading on the response to the coronavirus, if we don’t look across countries, if we don’t look to how other countries in our society are managing, then we won’t find solutions that help us all to be resilient.
And so, I think it’s time for a type of enlightened self-interest in how our leaders look to collaborate. We’ve seen, for example, with, you know, everything from access to vaccines to a reluctance to shut down fossil fuel companies or investments in fossil fuels, that governments find it easier to work really in their national self-interest than in a collective self-interest. And that’s something I’d love to see change in 2021.
Liz: [00:15:10] Fantastic. And I mean I guess there’s going to be so many factors that could influence the results of this, what we’re calling the super year. Andy, I’m sure, in fact I know that you’ve got a number of thoughts on this. Can you share with us?
Andy: [00:15:28] Many thanks, Liz, and thanks also to Ineza and Tara for those inspiring comments. Yeah, I mean the first point is that we need a decade of super years. I mean the challenge is so big in terms of the kind of signals we’re seeing on the climate fronts, in particular, which are alarming and go beyond, I think, anything anyone would’ve expected even 15 years ago.
So, one super year isn’t enough. We need a decade of super years and important as the international level is, it’s really setting a framework in which things drive forward in civil society, the kind of initiatives that Ineza was outlining, really important. Also in the markets and investment, we need that change as well as, you know, we need national politics to reorient really dramatically towards this, these huge challenges. And on that front, there have been some really positive developments.
Obviously the Biden win in the US is really important, it was very difficult always for the Paris Agreement to function without the US, one of the world’s biggest emitters. But we’ve also seen, you know, these really positive signals from China, from Japan, from Korea, from the EU, from the UK and so on. It’s not enough yet, but there is a sense of, you know, the momentum shifting. It needs to go much, much further but at least we’re seeing that pivot now. But we have lost a lot of time.
We didn’t really have three or four years to lose when, particularly the US’s position made it really difficult to make really ambitious progress in the climate negotiations. And going alongside that, the change we need to see needs to get locked in, globally, over the next four years in case, hopefully there won’t be a reverse in terms of the US position on climate action, but in case it does happen again.
So in the markets, in civil society, in national politics, we need to see things get really locked in so that there’s no chance that the pace of action will be reversed, because this is a decadal challenge, not a challenge for one year.
Liz: [00:17:41] So thanks, I think your comments, Andy and Tara, really tell us how we must keep focused, we’ve got to keep the energy, we’ve got to keep thinking about working together to make this happen. But, you know, could COVID-19 recovery, is it going to get in the way?
Andy: [00:17:56] Hopefully it won’t. Hopefully it will be a factor that kind of super charges the changes we need to see but there are a couple of things, clouds on the horizon there. One is the inequality issue I mentioned earlier, you know, it’s easy to talk about just an inclusive recovery but inequality has grown so it’s got to be, it’s got to have really powerful momentum. There’s the issue of fair global access to vaccines, which I think you mentioned in the intro, Liz.
That’s also clearly coming up huge. And finally, also, developing countries need to have the resources to do their own green recovery action and a lot of that is going to be about really ambitious action on debt and on making sure that the economic hit that a lot of poorer countries have taken over the course of the pandemic doesn’t mean that they can’t invest in a just and inclusive recovery, green recovery, from the pandemic.
Liz: [00:18:54] So Ineza, from your perspective and, you know, for the work of Green Fighter, do you think COVID-19 recovery is going to get in the way for you, or will you be able to stay focused and keep that drive for climate change happening?
Ineza: [00:19:10] I will say in the sense that we see the COVID-19 recovery as the unique opportunity for us to change our mindset and to change our focus in terms of how we see inequalities between generations and how we see social justice.
What I can say is that it won’t, because, if you see the recovery only in the health sector then it won’t be in the way of the global crisis, but if you take it as a means of recovering our mother nature environment, I think, I think this is a good way to try and use from every corner so that everyone can take responsibilities, so that we can see a global action taking from the local community to international community in the more inclusive and active manner.
Liz: [00:20:04] I’ve really liked how your message is – this goes beyond voices, this is active participation, this is inclusion. This is young people being completely involved in that change. And I really like the fact that you have put a lot of effort into driving that confidence. Are you seeing that begin to happen?
Ineza: [00:20:24] Yes. If I’m speaking on the side of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition, I can see that this is something that is already taking shape, because we launched our coalition this summer and we currently have the list of demands to the UK COP26 presidency, basically covering all the demands of the global youth in terms of addressing the climate injustice that’s already being experienced in some of the communities and also taking consideration that through with the COVID recovery we are going to attend the next COP, where I can say, we people from the global South, we really hope to see some active movement in terms of the Article Six, the climate finance and the loss and damage and a bit of the transparency.
We see it taking shape because in our coalition we have already youth, who are already being trained by senior negotiators from the LDCs and we are keeping to breathe the momentum with senior negotiators, and already in the set of youth we create a more... we reduce the generation gap in the negotiation room and implementation of projects on the ground in the community.
Liz: [00:21:47] So Tara, listening to Ineza it’s so good to hear about that really positive action, and we all have to do something, don’t we? And you’ve been pushing us all as individuals through your latest book, to think of the changes that we can all make. What do you think that the biggest differences will be? What can we all do?
Tara: [00:22:06] Oh gosh, so much I think, Liz. I think we have to follow Ineza’s example, so Ineza isn’t sitting there feeling overwhelmed by the problem of climate change. She so easily could, seeing COVID as a crisis facing her generation, she could be feeling very angry with us, the older generation, for having put her generation in this context, but instead she’s getting active, and it is so much better to feel that you’re taking action and to have agency in the face of some of these global challenges.
And you know, climate change is an existential threat. So, too, is biodiversity loss. So getting organised, participating, using your voice. We have an amazing influence on our peers, each one of us, whether that’s our peers in school, in college, where we volunteer, in our work, in our families and so, you know, making a change, any kind of change in our life and sharing that experience with others really will empower them and encourage and motivate them to follow your leads.
So I think each of us has more power than we think in that regard and, you know, as I look to like the latest reports coming out at the moment around the continued level of warming, 2020’s on course to be one of the three warmest years on record, and this year we may already have average warming of 1.2 degrees, that’s getting very, very close to the 1.5 degrees that is really our safe limit to global levels of warming. We have plenty of motivation for getting active and doing something is so much better than sitting doing nothing and feeling overwhelmed.
Liz: [00:23:53] As we draw to a close on this episode, I usually ask people to say what’s the change you’d like to see, but because it’s our first edition of the New Year, perhaps we could think of it in terms of new year resolutions. Andy, have you got a resolution you’d like to put forward?
Andy: [00:24:11] Thanks, Liz. Generally speaking, I’m not very good at new year’s resolutions, not very good at keeping to them so I’m going to make a real effort on this one [laughing]. Well, I’d like to just carry that lesson that we kicked off with through everything that I do and everything that IIED does this year, that radical change is possible, that we shouldn’t accept second best in terms of the scale of the challenge in front of us.
Liz: [00:24:38] Tara, what about a new year resolution from you?
Tara: [00:24:42] So I am also useless at new year’s resolutions and goal setting in general. But I guess I have one wish for the world, if I might start with that, and then I’ll give you two little resolutions. The wish for the world is that we don’t forget what we learnt in 2020, and that we capture what was good and bad and hard from this year and really use it to create this change, this change that we want to make from 2021 onwards.
So whether that’s that we don’t need to travel so much, whether it’s commuting or international travel for conferences, whether it’s more investment in our local communities because we spend more time there. I just really want us to capture the best of what we learnt in this year and make sure that we use that to inspire change. We have rewritten the rules of what is possible completely in 2020 – that’s one of the exciting things about 2020. So let’s create a new normal from 2021 onwards, and that, I think, is really exciting.
And I think that, done the right way, will help us to drive emissions down, will help us to protect nature. And if we really get it right, will be inclusive and help us to address the ever-growing problem of inequality.
And then my two resolutions are to continue to try and inspire individuals to feel powerful in the face of the climate emergency. So, I do that through messaging, as in my book that you mentioned, thanks, Liz, How to Save Your Planet One Object at a Time.
I feel like I really want to democratise climate action and what it is to be sustainable, to make it for everybody, not just some people that identify as being green. And the second resolution I have for this year is to really work harder and harder at communicating about sustainability and climate change. We’re still not getting it right. We’re getting closer, we’re much better.
But one thing I really want you to do this year and in the coming years is to use the SDGs a lot more to help create these connections about all these things that I care about, between justice and gender equality, climate, life in our oceans, biodiversity, healthy cities, all of these things, the SDGs are a fantastic template to help us do this, so I want to use them more to help me communicate better.
Liz: [00:26:57] Thank you. We’re going to be busy, I can tell there’s going to be no rest for us [laughing]. Ineza, what would be a kind of big change for your new normal that you feel people could really get behind this year? What would be a resolution that people could make and forge ahead with?
Ineza: [00:27:17] This is a good question, because it’s requesting me to see what kind of future I want to have and what needs to change in order for me to get it. If I can say, the one thing that I want to see changing is the tokenistic youth approaches in decision making on the national and international level, and the global recognition that the youth can really contribute on the ground with concrete results in the community.
So I would like to see move to the forum, decision making platform but inviting the youth and listening to their concern, and also sketching the solution with them. So that even women and children are incorporated.
Because whatever has happened in the past, I don’t want to say it’s the fault for the old generation, I want to say it’s a listen and learn. So the current generation need to only accept the past mistake and work with the next generation to create a new normal which will be transmitted to the children, so that we can have a sustainable planet and a future for everyone.
Liz: [00:29:07] Thank you so much, Ineza. I think that is a wonderful finish to this programme. And I’d like to thank you all. I think it’s quite clear, from all of you, that this is about collective action globally and it’s about individual action, and it’s about working across age groups, institutions, different groups of people, different countries all coming together.
And I really liked what Ineza said about this makes her think about what is the future that she wants to have and how can she work to get it? And I think for my new year resolution, I need to take that into account and to think about how to make my voice count.
Thank you all very much, Ineza Umehoza Grace, Dr Tara Shine and Andrew Norton. Thank you very much for your views and ideas. Listeners, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please share it with a friend or your community, your stakeholders. We very much appreciate any feedback that you can give us and we’re always looking out for new ways to improve and work on Make Change Happen.
May I wish you all the very best for 2021 and let’s keep our ambition high and hope that our expectations can be met.
Host: [00:30:33] You can find out more about this episode and our guests and their work on our website at www.iied.org/podcast where you can also listen to more episodes. The podcast is produced by our in-house communications team. For more information about IIED’s work, please visit us online at www.iied.org.