Youth voices for change: Four young climate action leaders we admire
Climate change represents one of the defining issues of this generation. From catastrophic storms and severe droughts to increasing global temperatures and rising sea-levels, the way our planet is changing is not for the better. It’s on all of us to do our part to stop the harm to our environment, and some of the best and brightest who are leading climate action are young women and girls.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this 8 March under the theme “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow”, meet some of the youth activists on the front lines of climate activism and movements, and learn what the movement means to them.
Alejandra Quiguantar, Colombia
As an Indigenous Pasto of the Muellamuès Community in Colombia, Alejandra Quiguantar has seen first-hand the impacts of environmental degradation caused by the exploitation of natural resources.
“Climate change has put Indigenous people in vulnerable situations, especially girls, who suffer the worst consequences of the environmental crisis and run the risk of suffering from violence when seeking food, water, or access to education,” she says
As a leader of Tejiendo Pensamiento and a member of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Feminist Justice, Alejandra has dedicated her work to facilitating the skills, education and training of indigenous women to support their advocacy in climate spaces.
“Providing the necessary tools to young people, women, and girls is essential so that they can lead environmental policy initiatives, projects, and programmes with a gender perspective, designed by and for the communities,” she says.
She hopes that unity and solidarity among climate activists around the world will lead to solutions and the urgent action our planet needs.
“As a member of the Feminist Action Coalition for Climate Justice, which involves the most marginalized voices, we are forming an incredible platform that has a collective purpose for our communities to transform realities. I am certain that teamwork will lead us to develop ambitious actions on climate change and gender equality.”
Henintsoa Onivola Minoarivelo, Madagascar
Dr. Henintsoa Onivola Minoarivelo is a theoretical ecologist from Madagascar who is currently researching ecology, the environment and conservation. Through her research, Henintsoa, a L'Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Young Talent Award-winner, is working to understand how climate change impacts the interactions between plants and animals through mathematical modelling and computer simulations.
“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time,” she says. “It is not only a threat to biodiversity, but essentially to humanity. Climate action should become an urgent priority because no one wants to see their children and the next generation to live in a chaotic world.”
Through her research, Henintsoa understands that climate change will impact every aspect of our lives, from global supply chains to daily human activities and the climate movements and gender equality actions are most connected through their concerns for the most vulnerable groups in society, including those living in poverty, especially women.
“Women are the most sensitive to the everyday effects of extreme weather events, especially in rural areas of the least developed countries. Women bear the direct effects of climate change by seeing the living conditions of their families become harsher due to extreme climate events.”
And because of their direct experience with the impacts of climate change, women and girls are critical in shaping the future of this world.
“I just want to encourage young women and girls to use their capacities for the benefit of humanity, and think globally rather than locally as much as possible.”
Petra Laiti, Finland
For Petra Laiti, climate activism is her way of keeping alive hope for a better world and brighter future.
“The response from my own community is very important to me, I wouldn't do what I do if it wasn't for them,” she says. “If I can bring hope to myself through the work I do, then that's the right path for me.”
Petra, 26, is an indigenous activist from Finland who works to raise awareness on the experience of her community, and the role Indigenous people must play in climate action.
“That indigenous people are currently safeguarding 80 per cent of the remaining biodiversity on Earth. Indigenous rights are human rights,” she says. “Indigenous rights are climate justice. Indigenous rights belong in the spotlight. If you're looking for a sign to educate yourself, to get involved, or to uplift indigenous voices, this is it.”
In her eyes, the best reward is spreading knowledge and seeing how new information can impact those she teaches, and how their actions change because of it.
“Whenever someone comes up to me and says, "I never realized" or "I hadn't thought of that", those are the kind of moments that make me proud,” she explains. “When you are the type of activist that primarily works to raise awareness about a marginalized group, you can never hope to educate an entire population. But when a single person begins to understand a new point of view and begins to see how little they know about indigenous rights, for instance, that's when I feel like I've achieved something good.”
Niria Alicia Garcia, Mexico
Niria Alicia Garcia is a Xicana climate justice organizer, human rights advocate and educator who works to protect the earth, and promote the dignity of historically oppressed peoples.
“I owe so much of my blessings to the struggle and joy of my ancestors and so it is my duty to serve and struggle with joy to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth and humanity so that my descendants can also enjoy all the splendor Mother Earth and this life has to offer humanity,” she says.
Niria is a 2020 UNEP Young Champion of the Earth, and believes that everyone needs to be aware of, and working to help preserve our planet and end its degradation.
“Every person here has a commitment to protecting the givers of life, be that our women, our birthing people, our waters and springs, our fertile soils and fresh winds. We have to protect these sacred fountains of life for our own sake,” she says.
And it is that solidarity in action, and the legacy of those that have come before her, and who will come after that inspire her every day.
“What inspires me to keep going is knowing that I’m not alone. Knowing that when I show up, stand up, and speak up to protect the sacred Mother Earth and all of creation are standing right there with me. I believe that speaking from our hearts awakens that intrinsic love all of humanity has for Mother Earth and so I know it is not me speaking it is truth that flows and resonates with the truth that others know even though many have forgotten.”