This Earth Day, and to coincide with the Leaders Summit on Climate, we look to five young female climate leaders who are on the frontlines of climate impacts.
Where were you and how old were you when you first realized you wanted to work for climate justice?
I am 26 years and from the Barishal coastal area of Bangladesh. The main source of income in my family was agriculture, but in 2007 when I was 11 years old, our family was hit by Super Cyclone Sidr, an extreme natural disaster that affected more than 8 million people in my country.
When I moved to a more urban setting, I became involved with some youth organizations and learned that these natural disasters are increasing due to the effects of climate change. Our communities are facing this type of disaster but we have not made huge contributions to these calamities. On this basis, I helped found a coastal-led youth movement YouthNet for Climate Justice which is the largest network for running climate advocacy and campaigns.
With YouthNet for Climate Justice, young people have mobilized and are sharing their ideas. Most importantly they have become actors that take climate action. It is vital to invest in the young people of Bangladesh.
What advice would you give other young women who want to work for climate justice?
My advice to young women is to learn about science, explore the solution, raise their voice, and lead the process. We are unheard, not voiceless. Our voice and involvement are very crucial to tackle the crisis and build resilience.
Normally, youth voices especially young women are unheard at the local and national policymaking. But we are securing our position at the decision-making table through our knowledge leadership and activism.
As a young climate leader, what impact are you most proud of?
The Bangladesh Parliament has declared climate change as a planetary emergency and is focusing more on the conservation of biodiversity, ecology and nature, which was is great landmark advocacy moment that was led by me. The organization is also working to ensure fair compensation for climate survivors and our youth movement has aligned with Fridays for Future.
Coastal Youth Action Hub is another initiative promoting youth-led innovative solutions and activism. Recently our prime-minister and the Chair of Climate Vulnerable Forum Sheikh Hasina mentioned, “We want to see international carbon markets unlocked for transnational climate cooperation and solutions found to our profound loss, damage and climate injustice. In our war against nature, we will lose unless we unite. We are consciously destroying the very support systems that are keeping us alive. What planet shall we leave for the Greta Thunbergs or those at the Bangladesh Coastal Youth Action Hubs? At COP26 we must not fail them.”
It is another achievement that the Prime Minister referred to our initiative on the global stage.
Biden is holding a summit for world leaders on April 22. If you could say one thing to world leaders this Earth Day, what would it be?
Climate change isn’t an environmental and development issue. It’s an existential threat. We must reach negative zero emissions before 2050. Governments in developed countries have a moral responsibility to lead the way and can do this by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions well before 2050. You have the money and technology to do that. And richer countries should also keep their promise of $100 billion a year to help poorer countries. They didn’t create this crisis but they are suffering most from it.
In a sentence, what does climate justice mean to you?
Where is my climate justice? If you are like me, the answer is there isn’t any. It is time to address this.
Our message is very clear. Without gender equality, no climate justice. Without climate justice, no gender equality.
Shakila Islam is a leader and activist working to tackle the climate crisis, COVID-19, and also the Rohingya refugee humanitarian crisis. She is the Vice-Chair of the Protiki Jubo Sangshad (Bangladesh Model Youth Parliament), chief coordinator of YouthNet for Climate Justice, and a founding member of Fridays for Future Bangladesh movement. Shakila advocates for the most affected communities and people, especially women and girls, and has represented Bangladeshi young people at the ICPD25 Nairobi summit’s SRHR & climate session. You can follow Shakila on Twitter here and YouthNet here.