COP25 underway in Madrid

Bangladeshi-American teen activist strives for climate action

- A Monitor Desk Report 04 Dec, 2019 | 725 Views|-+
Dhaka: "I am from Bangladesh, a country that exemplifies how interconnected the climate emergency is to racial justice and poverty.”

Referring to the discourse on how people of colour are often disproportionately affected by climate change, Bangladeshi-American teen activist Rebeca Sabnam said this ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) taking place from December 2 – 13 in Madrid.

The issue of climate change has been brought to the forefront by youth activists led by Greta Thunberg, whose call for urgent climate action resulted in thousands gathering in New York City for a climate strike during the UN General Assembly in September.

At the gathering, sixteen-year-old Rebeca Sabnam stood in front of the crowd and highlighted stories of a community that remains some of the most vulnerable to climate change and yet remains under-reported – the women, children, and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

"The climate crisis is not just an environmental issue, it's an urgent human rights issue," said Sabnam. "Bangladeshi women are extremely vulnerable to post displacement trafficking, magnified by the climate crisis," she added.

The high school student lives in New York with her family, who migrated to the country when she was six years old.

COP25 is focusing on a range of issues such as the global tourism industry's work to implement climate-friendly initiatives, tracking progress on the Paris Climate Agreement 2016, and an "Intergenerational Inquiry" where global leaders are meeting youth activists leading the climate change conversation.

"We want COP25 to not simply take note of [the] alarming data [on the rise in temperature], but to advocate for the end of the funding, expansion, and use of fossil fuel," Shabnam said. "I hope they address not only a transition to renewable resources but a just transition for front-line communities."

Bangladesh remains one of the most vulnerable countries to the climate crisis with its flat topography. In 2016, it was ranked sixth on the Climate Risk Index.

When it comes to the Rohingya, the location of the community's refugee camps in Bangladesh exposes them to risks. After the initial influx of Rohingya refugees, trees were cut all at once to accommodate more people, leading to deforestation. This has caused an increase to landslide possibility in the mountains during monsoon.

Indigenous communities, many of whom also live in coastal areas, are at a similar risk.

This intersectionality remains at the heart of the solutions and needs to be brought into focus when thinking of ways to address climate risks in these countries. As experts on the ground in Bangladesh have pointed out, at the core of climate resilience is the understanding of how it affects various communities - who do not often get a seat at the discussion table - differently.

For Sabnam, this remains the focus of the journey ahead - to ensure Bangladesh is not "forgotten along the way after the Climate Strike”.

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