What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic

As world leaders head to Egypt for the COP27 climate summit, six Arctic Angels set out their agenda for this year’s planet-critical gathering

Arctic Angels is a youth-led, intergenerational action network of 48 female activists from more than 20 countries, founded by Global Choices.

Arctic Angels work as voices for their generation, campaigning to raise awareness of and protect the Arctic and Antarctic. They are tomorrow’s climate leaders.

Here, The Environment introduces six of them.

‘Women and girls suffer most when disaster strikes’

Evelyn Acham is on a mission to get leaders to listen. The thirtysomething climate activist from Kampala, Uganda is tired of inaction from decision-makers on climate change. Having seen its impacts devastate her community, Evelyn studied climate change and activism and campaigns for climate justice and gender equality.

Why does an activist from Uganda campaign to protect the ice caps? What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. The climate crisis – represented by melting ice caps – impacts every aspect of life in Uganda.

Changing weather patterns cause long dry seasons, impacting harvests and increasing food prices. Wildfires are spreading. Water sources are drying up.

Acham campaigns for gender equality; it’s women and girls in her community who suffer the most when disaster strikes. When floods destroy roads and schools, children drop out of education. Girls are marked out for early marriage or help at home. Women walk longer distances for food and water.

Everyone should live in a clean environment, Acham says, with access to clean water and access to food. Planting fruit trees to provide food, shelter and incomes for women opens an opportunity for Acham to talk to communities about climate change and to empower young people to know their rights and speak up for their future.

This is a fight for justice, Acham says: we must also address social injustice, racial injustice and gender inequality. Governments and leaders must understand that the climate crisis is interconnected.

What makes you happy?

Seeing the impact from my outreach work, amplifying voices from vulnerable and impacted communities and seeing these represented at climate conferences and summits by the media.

What do you want to see from COP27?

Action. There is no longer time for denial or pledges and promises. Decision-makers must listen to those most affected by climate change and deliver climate finance for adaptation and mitigation for vulnerable communities who can’t transition as fast.

Push loss and damage finance up the agenda’

Kervelle Baird represents a new generation of scientists, an expert in environmental hazards and risk-management. Baird, 27, from Trinidad and Tobago is studying for her Masters at Université Côte d’Azur in Nice.

Trinidad and Tobago, an island state whose marine jurisdiction is 15 times its land area, is already climate-vulnerable. Its 1.4 million people already live with more widespread flooding, more frequent and brutal hurricanes, coastal and soil erosion and lost habitats.

“We’re seeing unseasonal temperatures and precipitation, with consequences for people’s health, agriculture and homes,” Baird says.

Her solution to help her country to adapt to climate change is marine-economy venture, In2theBlue. It will work with coastal communities to create sustainable new fisheries, research and development, manufacturing and leisure projects.

Baird also advises the Global Center on Adaptation, one of a dozen youth panellists helping to connect the Netherlands-headquartered body with young people to include them in responses to climate change.

What makes you happy?

People who understand their power in the world to consider others and the environment and who are open-minded to make a difference. We need to be conscientious to make the world a fairer, more sustainable and happier place

What do you want to see from COP27?

Loss and damage finance need to be on the agenda. I will work for loss and damage finance until it becomes part of mainstream and de facto climate action. We need to discuss and highlight the loss and damage that is unavoidable, its costs and the losses we can expect to see, come COP28.

Protect Indigenous lands to save the Amazonian rainforest’

Sofia Ferrigolo, 18, is a Brazilian youth climate activist from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, now studying international business and environment at University of Cincinnati. She founded the Brazil chapter of education NGO ClimateScience in 2020.

“In mid-2020, the Brazilian Pantanal wetlands were affected by intense drought and devastating wildfires,” Ferrigolo says. “But there was no commotion about losing our unique biome. My closest circle – friends, family and colleagues – were silent. Not a respectful silence, but an oblivious one. I realised no one knew the extent of what we were losing – not even me.”

ClimateScience is working to share that knowledge across Brazil, Ferrigolo says. Home to the Pantaneiras people and hundreds of plants and animals, Pantanal is the world’s most extensive tropical wetland.

The 2020 fires destroyed more than quarter of the wetland, losing 3.9 million ha. Last year, wildfires took a further 1.3 million ha by September. Changing land use and wildfires in Pantanal generate 80 per cent of Brazil’s carbon dioxide. “And 35 per cent of Pantanal territories have been destroyed in two years,” Ferrigolo says.

Despite Brazil’s size and diversity, climate change affects the whole country; floods in Recife, droughts in Pantanal and Amazonia, sea-level rise in Rio de Janeiro and polluted air from wildfires in São Paolo. “Another similarity that unites us is the lack of accessible information about climate change – which leads to a lack of action to mitigate and reduce emissions.”

Ferrigolo is passionate about protecting the central Arctic sea-ice shield. She’s just become an Antarctica ambassador, having travelled to the frozen south with polar explorer Robert Swan.

What makes you happy is…

I’m an extremely curious creature. I love reading about random topics; from classical music and carbon taxation to Yanomami tribes and the evolution of the platypus. The information we have is so vast – it gives me a sense of anticipation and happiness to learn things I had no idea about.

When world leaders meet at COP27 in Egypt, you urge them to…

Protect the Amazonian rainforest and the Indigenous people who live there. Various regions of the Amazon face a tipping point. That won't impact only Brazil, but the whole world. I urge world leaders to demand accountability from the Brazilian government, to recognise and protect Indigenous lands to conserve and help the Amazonian rainforest to recover.

We are pushing our planet to its limits – close the emissions gap’

Sharon Gakii, 25, is a climate-justice activist and environmentalist from a pastoral community in Kenya, working to conserve and protect our planet and its resources for the common good. She organises volunteer clean-ups and works with communities to raise awareness of climate change and encourage others to defend and protect the planet.

Gakii’s passion is planting fruit trees to feed people, absorb carbon and make a cleaner, greener environment. “I didn’t grow up wanting to be an environmentalist – but nothing else makes sense on a dying planet,” she says. “The triple planetary crisis – climate, biodiversity loss and pollution – has stolen so many of our precious, natural, God-given gifts.

“Nothing will be left for our children if we retreat from the fight against climate injustices. Fighting for a better world means uprooting the system that exploits the Earth and replacing it with a holistic system, concerned about the common good.”

Climate change leaves Kenya’s pastoral communities struggling with frequent, prolonged drought. The country’s famous wildlife is suffering, too. Elephants, lions and other species travel further to find food and water. If they damage crops and livestock, villagers living near Kenya’s national parks strike back.

Gakii comes from rain-fed eastern Kenya. Climate-linked drought has already cut food production there. “We have witnessed big losses,” she says.

What makes you happy?

Pushing the narrative to bring attention to serious issues and mobilising others to influence political leaders and policy makers to shape ambitious legislation. I fight for social justice in environmental spaces, to create equitable, democratic communities where everyone flourishes.

What do you want to see from COP27?

Accelerating global efforts to confront the climate crisis. The latest science shows climate change moving much faster than expected, pushing ecosystems and communities to their limits. Governments and leaders must act swiftly close the emissions gap to keep global temperature rise within +1.5°C through rapid, bold emissions cuts.

COP27 must increase international finance for adaptation to at least half the total spent on climate action. It must honour its commitment to provide US$100 billion a year to developing countries to invest in green technologies and protect lives and livelihoods against worsening climate impacts.

You are part of something wild and huge that you should not change’

Iluuna Sorensen, 21, grew up in Nuuk, Greenland and is studying in Denmark. She spent her childhood close to nature; fishing, gathering berries and spotting whales swimming off the coast. She launched Fridays for Future Greenland, inspired by Greta Thunberg, after her mother showed her a documentary on climate change.

Although people joke about changing weather patterns – irregular seasonal patterns, lower fish catches – climate impacts are hitting Greenland hard, Sorensen says. The icebergs and glaciers are shrinking. Whales were common but now sightings stop for years on end. Summers come crawling with caterpillars.

Sorensen had her wake-up call aged 16, deciding to go vegetarian. Imported beans and greens are hugely expensive. A sustainable diet in Greenland is what you fish, hunt and forage in season, she saw; climate insecurity will make packaged and imported food more costly in future.

“I’ve learned a lot about what sustainable looks like in Greenland and how different that is in Denmark,” she says. “We can plant trees, but we can’t plant ice. Nature in Greenland is unique. You are part of something wild and huge, that you should not change. Once it’s changed we cannot change it back.”

Sorensen launched Greenland for Nature, a platform for young people to share experiences “that go beyond the usual stories about hunters or fishers”.

What makes you happy?

Home, always. My family home is built of stone and looks out over the ocean. And I love to go into Nuuk to drink coffee with my friends. Education opportunities are better outside Greenland, but I love to come home. And I always represent Greenland when I’m away.

What do you want to see from COP27?

A sense of urgency. As a young person, I feel we don’t talk about climate change in the present. We don’t act like it’s in the present. So we don’t try to fix it now. Climate change is something we should adapt to and mitigate and try to change – but it’s affecting a lot of people in the world right now. In this unique place that’s so close to nature, we already see things changing drastically.

‘My country has already seen sea levels rise’

Oshadhi Wimansa, 17, is a student from Sri Lanka, studying physics, chemistry and biology, a badminton player and a school prefect. Last year she set up an Ocean Heroes club at school to raise climate awareness and encourage other young people to protect our seas. She plans to become a marine biologist.

Wimansa’s grandparents inspired her to love nature, sharing their memories of nature and encouraging her to garden and plant trees. She grew up playing in paddy fields, climbing trees and swimming in the lakes and rivers with a cousin.

She was shocked, when her father moved the family to Colombo, to be torn away from nature. “The environment has changed here,” she says. “There were not many trees.”

Wimansa’s love for nature shapes her climate activism. Sri Lanka is already feeling “disastrous” climate impacts, she says; more floods and droughts, lower farming yields and people becoming poorer and less secure.

“A huge number of citizens live in low-lying coastal areas on the island at risk of future sea-level rise,” she says. “Climate change threatens our biodiversity, including our marine ecosystems and coastal coral reefs – its effects threaten Sri Lanka’s human and natural systems.”

Most Sri Lankans are aware of climate change and are starting to act to protect the environment, Wimansa says.

What makes me happy is

Young people like me – and diverse people around the world – engaging collectively in climate activism, acting confidently to protect our mother Earth.

What do you want to see from COP27?

To find and implement climate-saving actions as soon as possible, based on collective decisions from diverse leaderships.

Arctic Angels has launched Arctic Ice Force, campaigning for a ten-year moratorium to protect the polar regions. Find out more at: https://www.globalchoices.org/arctic-angels

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