Q&A: Young people know how to work together

Ineza Grace at Exploring Loss and Damage at Cop 26
Ineza Grace at Exploring Loss and Damage at Cop 26. Copyright: Justin Goff/UK Government, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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  • Climate change affects her community
  • Women needed to talk to women
  • Women speaking give a sense of hope

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Ineza Grace is just 25 years old, but she has already represented Rwanda at three United Nations climate change summits.

She has also helped establish two youth climate networks – one international and one at home – which are putting young people at the centre of high-level talks about the world’s future.

While running between meetings at COP26, Ineza tells SciDev.Net why women and young girls are making their voices heard and demanding change.

What’s your experience been at COP26? Do you think enough is being done? Will the results will be positive?

There’s this understanding that some leaders, especially from the global North, are trying to come up clean for the media, because now more than ever everyone is aware that climate inaction is doing an injustice, especially in the global South. But when you’re looking technically at the negotiations, there’s no such thing as big progress. One of the facts that I can give for example is [valuing the cost of climate change impacts which have caused] loss and damage, it’s one of the biggest injustices that we are facing. ‘Loss and damage’ is what happens when it’s too late to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

You’re a member of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition and you also created another organisation, The Green Protector.

Yes, I am a co-founder and co-director at Loss and Damage Youth Coalition, we started in summer 2020. We are a coalition of youth around the world where we have one single demand, which is to achieve climate justice. The only way to achieve climate justice is for global leaders to take action to address loss and damage. We do this by pressuring global leaders by giving out for example, open letters. We have sent a couple to the EU, to the COP26 presidency, and to the United States of America. We also do training, because we want to ensure that youth across the world have information about what’s loss and damage, and most importantly on how everyone can take action, regardless of where you’re located, or the background you have in education. Climate change is something that is happening to all of us, and it has no borders, and the only way we are going to come out safe is if we work together. Working together in a non-tokenistic manner is something that the youth understand. But when you’re looking at global diplomacy, there’s still some work to be done.

How is climate change impacting young people? And how do you see it affecting your futures?

I was exposed to climate change impacts when I was younger, but I didn’t know it was climate change. I just have that memory of waking up in the middle of the night to save my life. My mum was the one who woke me up, because intensive rainfall and wind destroyed my house ceiling. When I finished high school, I saw on the news that in this particular area in my country, people were forced to move because erosion and flooding were hitting their area. So, I went to study environmental engineering. Loss and damage is something that is costing my future. We are here [at COP26] because we want to go back home and say to our community, ‘Now you can rest assured we have come to a solution.’ But whenever I’m in the room, you can hear the frustration because developed countries, small island countries have been making their demands clear for ages.

What role do women play in the solutions for climate change, particularly in Sub-Saharan African communities? There have been some fantastic voices here at COP26, especially young women from Africa.

First of all, they are heroes, because they manage to live in areas where we still go to fetch water at a very long distance, or fetch wood. But we don’t give up because women do have that sense of nature [needing] protection. I’m blessed to be coming from Rwanda, a country where women’s voices are much more highlighted and empowered. But in some countries, there’s no women to influence decisions, which means that most of the solutions are not gender responsive. We are using our voice to demand change. And when a woman speaks, another woman listens. If I enter a room, I need to speak so that a fellow female who is in the room will feel encouraged to speak up too.

And that highlights the importance of having role models for girls and young women.

Yes, yes. Because we grew up thinking that the men in the room are the ones to make a decision. I had to realise that women [have] equal power, because I was in this mindset of knowing that [being a] woman equals keeping your mouth shut, and do as you’re told. So, I believe that now Africa is rising because women are speaking up and they’re taking space and they are creating hope. Because when I see my colleague [Elizabeth Wathuti] from Kenya speaking up, or Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, when I see those women speaking up it’s a sense of hope.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s sub-Saharan Africa English desk.