TAKING the stage at a crucial meeting to examine how climate loss and damage are valued at the international climate summit COP26, Ineza Grace delivered a powerful message: climate-vulnerable communities cannot adapt to starvation, and finance for irreparable climate damage is a matter of justice.
At just 25, Grace is co-founder of the global Loss and Damage Youth Coalition. She also leads The Green Protector, which focuses on Rwanda’s sustainable development and environmental education, and acts as a community think-tank.
An environmental engineer by training, Grace says women in Sub-Saharan Africa are heroes who live every day with the growing challenges of the climate crisis.
Grace has represented Rwanda at three UN climate change summits. She has also helped establish two youth climate networks – one international and one at home – which put young people at the centre of high-level talks about the world’s future.
While running between meetings at COP26, Grace explains 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 be positive?
There’s this understanding that some leaders, especially from the global North, are trying to clean up 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 significant progress. For example, one of the facts that I can give is (valuing the cost of climate change impacts which have caused) loss and damage; it’s one of the biggest injustices 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, which we started in summer last year. We are a coalition of youth worldwide where we have one single demand, which is to achieve climate justice.
The only way to achieve climate justice is for global leaders 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, the COP26 presidency, and the US.
We also do training because we want to ensure that youth worldwide have information about what’s loss and damage and, most importantly, how everyone can take action, regardless of where you’re located or the background you have in education.
Climate change 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 about 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 site. 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 return 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 are no women to influence decisions, which means that most 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 talk so that a fellow female in the room will feel encouraged to speak up.
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 doing as you’re told.
So, I believe that now Africa is rising because women are speaking up, taking space, and 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 and can be found on https://www.scidev.net/global/role-models/qa-young-people-know-how-to-work-together/