Posts Tagged ‘Geneva Solutions’

Environmental defenders at the Young Activists Summit speak their mind

November 20, 2020

Kyra Dupont for Geneva Solutions News of 20 November 2020 interviewed two environmental defenders: Vanessa Nakate, a 24-year-old Ugandan and and Solar Impulse founder Piccard to see how their actions resonated.

The Young Activists Summit (YAS) taking place online today aims to shine a spotlight on young activists who are advancing climate action – but also foster greater dialogue between generations. Young activists have become the face of today’s climate crisis. But the fight did not start with Generation Z – nor are they the only ones affected by the realities of global warming. The Young Activists Summit, hosted in Geneva, will give young people a platform to speak up on climate issues, while at the same time encouraging dialogue with an older generation of climate influencers, including Solar Impulse founder Bertrand Piccard.

Roots of a fight. Vanessa Nakate grew up in Kampala in a middle-class family inspired by a father trader in solar batteries and involved in community work as a member of the Rotary Club. “Like my father, I wanted to help out those in my community, find a way to change their lives.” As she was looking for a meaningful cause to dedicate herself, the student in business administration discovered climate change.

I had already seen floods, landslides, droughts but I had never connected them to climate change because in schools in Uganda this is something we do not worry about: it either belongs to the past, or to the future. When I started reading about it, I grew to understand that this is the current threat humanity faces right now. I decided that I had to take action and be part of the climate movement.

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Like Nakate, Piccard – the son of oceanographer Jacques Piccard – was also inspired by family members. While studying at medical school (he became psychiatrist) he started fighting for cleaner aviation and ultralight airplanes.

I was horrified by how human beings could pollute and all the disrespectful way of treating the environment.”

The power of youth. Worried by the unusually high temperatures hitting Uganda, Nakate began protesting against climate inaction in front of Ugandan parliament in 2019. She also staged hunger strikes every Friday for three months. It did not have much impact nor did it attract much attention being the sole protester outside the government gates. But an activist was born. Eventually, other young Ugandans started responding to her calls on social media.

For Piccard too, beginnings were hard. To his great surprise, his fiercest opponents were the ecologists who did not want cleaner aviation, only fewer planes. It took a good 35 years to win his case. Today, he is respected for realising the impossible: he is the visionary initiator of Solar Impulse, the first zero-fuel aircraft with perpetual autonomy. Thanks to his round-the-world flight, the “explorer for sustainability” was able to launch the Solar Impulse Foundation and its 1,000 solutions to protect the environment in a profitable way. He is now listened to by chiefs of state and respected institutions like the European Commission or the United Nations.

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Swiss psychiatrist and pilot Bertrand Piccard receives the Knight of the Legion d’Honneur insignia from French President François Hollande. (Credit: Keystone / Etienne Laurent)

Injustice as a driving force. Nakate’s energy comes from her desire to end the injustice afflicting her country and the African continent in general. In Uganda, 90 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for their survival, “a matter of life and death”.

This is why she is not afraid to tell the truth and speak up in front of decision-makers. Convinced young people can make a difference, she founded Youth for Future Africa and the Rise Up Movement Africa before joining the ranks of a handful of activists at the UN climate summit, COP25, in Madrid in December 2019 where she met Greta Thunberg. She was also invited by Arctic Basecamp in Davos where she co-wrote a letter to the participants of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

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Climate activists Isabelle Axelsson, Loukina Tille, Vanessa Nakate, Greta Thunberg, and Luisa Neubaue, from left, arrive for a news conference in Davos on 24 January 2020. (Credit: Keystone / Markus Schreiber)

Thousands of young people mobilised for climate change, a powerful grassroots movement that did not exist in the same way when Piccard started to voice his concerns.

“They are very fortunate to be such a big group with such a loud voice. When I was their age, I was very lonely and not a lot of people were speaking about these climate issues. It gives us strength. It gives power. People listen to them. But it also gives them responsibility.”

The keys to sucess. In order for youth aspirations to bear fruit, their message must be practical and concrete with very targeted requests, says Piccard. Development aid should help incentivise developing countries to be cleaner, more efficient and sustainable so donors and investors know that they are not losing their money.

“To say they want to fight climate change is too vague (…) By being practical and voicing specific and understandable claims, they will have a much more positive outcome than if they just protest and say “we are paying the cost of rich countries”.”

Refusing economic growth is purely idealistic, according to Piccard. Its reduction would lead to social chaos, the bankruptcy of thousands of companies and the unemployment of millions of people. The decision-makers must find an advantage in investing in developing countries. Solidarity, yes, but with good leverage.

“To fight poverty in developing countries, you need to localize the production of energy and give energy access to everybody. And you can only do that with renewable energies. If you put solar energy in a village in Uganda, it will create a local economy. People who have solar energy will sell the electricity to people charging their phones, doing business, pumps for irrigation. They will store it in batteries and sell the electricity further…”

Nakate says she is fighting for the fact that the impacts of climate change are not borne equally or fairly between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations. Many victims of climate change have disproportionately low responsibility for causing the emissions responsible for global warming. Meanwhile the $1bn promised by the Green Climate Fund is still underfunded. A balance still needs to be found between the young activist’s call for climate justice and proper use of funds seniors like Piccard insist on.

The power of education. Well aware of the interactions between climate and social justice, Nakate started to work on the Green Schools Project, a renewable energy initiative which aims to transition schools to solar energy and install eco-friendly stoves. This way, she hopes to bring transition to renewable energy in rural schools and give them access to electricity and a better education.

“I never had the opportunity to learn about it, to understand the danger that our planet is facing. If you know that you are in a burning house, you will do everything you can to stop the fire. So, I believe in creating awareness, and this awareness only comes through education.”

Nakate especially believes in educating girls, the number six tool to fight the climate crisis on the list of the DrawDown project.

“There are a lot of different technologies to move towards sustainability but most of them need so much funding. Educating girls is something we can do right now. When you educate these girls from the most affected communities, it also benefits their families and cascades into their communities. They will make better decisions in their lives, have fewer children, survive the risk of hunger, resist school drop-outs, know how to build resilience. They are tomorrow’s leaders, tomorrow’s campaigners, tomorrow’s scientists who will make the best decisions for their countries.”

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“Women leaders make the best decisions for their countries. We need more girls in decision-making positions,” says Nakate (Credit: Ronald Meyna)

Africa’s contribution to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions is less than four per cent of the total. But despite being one of the lowest emitters, it is the continent most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Yes, those who are the least responsible are suffering the most and yes, it comes as an injustice, says Nakate. But like Piccard in his own time, she resorted to take control of her own destiny.

“We cannot lay back and feel comfortable because our emissions are limited. If we do not speak up for ourselves, we will continue experiencing direct impacts of climate change.”

MEA 2019 laureate Abdul Aziz Muhamat wants refugees themselves to be heard

November 9, 2020

Geneva Solutions of 7 November 2020 published a call to give “a voice back to the voiceless: a call to empower refugees” written by Abdul Aziz Muhamat, who is a human rights advocate for migrants and refugees now based in Geneva. He is the 2019 Martin Ennals Award Laureate for Human Rights Defenders (see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/30/flight-from-manus-the-inside-story-of-an-exceptional-case/),

He is currently a UN fellow at OHCHR, and the former recipient of the ISHR Human Rights Defenders Fellowship. He is involved in social work, advocacy, and is authoring in collaboration with other refugees offshore and inshore ( They Can’t Take The Sky):

I’m tired of hearing celebrities saying they are  “voices of the voiceless.” Unfortunately, I hear it often from celebrities with our pictures and stories, rather than from refugees themselves.

The so-called “voiceless” are individuals living in poverty and conflict zones, and were forced to leave their countries while they were muffled, hushed, pushed down and left out. But they are not voiceless. They do not need your voices but they do need you to put them behind the microphone, make room at the table, and give them a chance to speak up. If we want to find lasting and sustainable solutions for the refugee and migrant crisis, then stop speaking for the so-called voiceless, and start working alongside them to make sure their powerful voices are heard.

Media, the arts and celebrities often say they strive to “give voice to the voiceless”. While this can empower, it can also be a potentially harmful tool for them too. It makes me feel like an object, it discourages me from speaking for myself and most importantly, it is dehumanising because someone else is speaking on my behalf. Being a refugee means more than being an alien, no right, no voice; this can sound trite, clichéd, even patronising. Speaking on our behalf can take the real voices of the concerned people away and replace them with a slogan, “Voice of the Voiceless”. Are they really voiceless? If so, then who took their voices?

What refugees urgently need, besides food and water, medical care, and a roof over their heads, is hope! And prospects of a homeland, friends, and a sense of security. Unfortunately, reality presents a completely different picture to many of them. Here is a call for reflection.

Protests and public ceremonies at least remind us of the problem, even if they do not solve them. Anyone who has never been part of a refugee trek has little idea of everything that happens along the way. These people have just turned their backs on violence, persecution, and human rights violations only to walk into hopelessness, hunger, and cold! It is a vicious cycle of evil that has been set in motion. People with a permanent home and a roof over their heads can barely imagine this. There are millions of fates and stories that tell of violence, human abysses, but some also of hope and courage.

Why is it easy to listen to someone who speaks out on behalf of victims but not to the victims directly? Is it also time to question this invisibility? The fact is that no-one is listening and no-one is offering them a platform to express their concerns on their own, so it doubles their suffering. We hide them in detention centres or camps, away from us, making it harder for them to connect with reality. But it also prevents the truth from coming out as it is, and that’s part of the complexity. The majority of these refugees are coming from countries that are torn apart by wars, extreme poverty, lack of freedom of speech, human rights abuses etc.

The media are not interested in listening to the people concerned. Instead they listen to the rich and famous, and this makes them complicit. It is on journalists and the media’s shoulders to seek out the stories of those who would be left out of the public record, like refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. If we aim “to give voice to the voiceless,” it requires more than asking for sound-bite quotes, taking pictures in refugee camps or using them to sell newspapers. No, it is bigger than that, it means listening to their stories, offering them a safe platform to speak for themselves rather than to speak on their behalf, no-one was born without a voice.

No media so far asks the refugees about the impact of the US election or the EU migration policy, why? Because we don’t have a voice and our point of view is not considered as valuable. The Trump administration, but also the Democratic party, have largely dismantled the US asylum seekers and refugees resettlement programme. It became a model for the EU member States and Australia, and even questioned the refugees convention of 1951.

The actions of the US government over the last four years shaped the dichotomy of “Us-vs-Them”. It has also created social and economical inequality among the refugee communities: some were seen as vulnerable and others not, and this in turn has increased tensions within refugee communities. As an example, in 2017 when the US government made a deal with the Australians to take refugees from offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru several countries were banned and it created big tensions between the refugees. These actions show a lack of compassion for the victims of armed violence and persecution and abdicates US leadership and support for countries struggling to cope with refugee crises. The Trump administration turned a cold shoulder to countries on the frontlines of conflict, many of which are close US allies and bear the burden of caring for and protecting the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees. Even at its most robust, US refugee resettlement only directly benefits a small fraction of the world’s 26 million refugees. But when used strategically, and in combination with humanitarian assistance and technical support, it can have enormous benefits beyond helping the relatively few people rescued.

The US refugee resettlement program has traditionally aimed to identify the most vulnerable refugees, often those who are not only persecuted in their home country but also unwelcome in the country of first arrival, such as members of religious minorities or LGBT.  The American refugee policies have inspired many countries such as Australia, Europe, the UK, and especially after the domination of the right-wing in Europe. In Australia, refugees are forcibly sent to remote islands and detained for almost seven years, in Europe especially Greece became the EU warehouse for asylum seekers and migrants, and some were forcibly pushed back by some EU member States to Libya or left to drown off the coast of Libya.

Europe’s humanity is lost at sea when it comes to refugees and no-one knows when or how will the EU get it back.

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https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/giving-a-voice-back-to-the-voiceless-a-call-to-empower-refugees