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Exclusive – COP27’s Solutions Day with Fazeela Mubarak

What should be our main takeaways from the last fortnight, has this been as successful a summit as was necessary, and can we be optimistic about the future? We spoke with activist and co-founder of Wild Heart Kenya, Fazeela Mubarak, to find out.

Ending on a hopeful note, Solutions Day was all about examining the possible solutions for the broad array of climate change challenges we face – particularly how we can limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius if we put our minds to it.

Elements of the day included panels looking at green business models, sustainable transport, and how cities can deal with the crisis on a more local level. There was also a focus on the start-ups that are bringing creativity and innovation to this effort.

Diplomatic negotiations on a pact additionally entered their final hours. While the exact outcomes won’t be known until the conference officially ends later this afternoon, COP27’s president labelled it the ‘implementation COP’ – the ‘world’s watershed moment on climate action’ – with the goal of holding countries to their pledges on carbon emissions cuts.

So, what should be our main takeaways from the last fortnight, has this been as successful a summit as was necessary, and can we be optimistic about the future? We spoke with Fazeela Mubarak to find out.

For the unfamiliar, Fazeela is an environmentalist turned activist born and raised in Kenya who now lives in London but whose work primarily still lies in her home country.

Striving to raise awareness about the importance of community conservation and the contribution of Indigenous practices in protecting the Earth’s biodiversity, she has experience in planning and implementing climate change mitigation projects with special attention to reducing human-wildlife conflicts.

She also co-founded Wild Heart Kenya, which she uses to highlight how the crisis is affecting communities. Through this she is fundraising for sustainable solutions, empowering women, and inspiring the next generation of conservationists.

 

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Thred:  COP is in its 27th year, yet world leaders are still failing to treat the climate emergency like an emergency. How efficient do you consider the solutions that have been presented so far?

Fazeela: So far, I feel as though the solutions are moving very slowly, especially when it comes to loss and damage. I heard there’s been a small breakthrough whereby the majority of the parties have agreed to commit, but how long will it take to implement? How long will it take to reach the grassroots level? I’m doing what I can with my organisation, but we can only do so much. We’re covering a small area to provide Kenyan communities with aid during this drought but our country is so vast. That’s why, when we have these problems, it’s important to push for policy from a top-down level and let the solutions trickle down. It’s the waiting that’s an issue.

How long do we have to wait until we have something concrete that’s going to make a real difference to communities like mine?


Thred: Do you think COP could have done more to include the voices of young people and minority groups in their policies and pledges? And have said policies and pledges been ambitious enough?

Fazeela: No. When you look into the ratios of the civil movements that are there at the moment, there are few Indigenous people and frontline communities being represented. From what I understand, they’re being shut out of negotiation rooms and confined to certain spaces.

This is really disheartening to have learned after all this talk of getting youth and BIPOC individuals involved. Because when we show up, we’re locked out of the decision-making spaces. All while 600 fossil fuel representatives are given access. This makes you think: are they really going to put our planet and people before their profits? Or is this simply yet another case of youth washing and tokenism.

Additionally, there needs to be a system change. We need to be wary of organisations or people who want to youth wash. Young people’s contributions and views are being ignored. We need to push for real representation and stop having youth present in these spaces for the sake of it.


Thred: What are you hoping to see from today’s conversations and programmes? And are there any topics you wish had been on the agenda that weren’t discussed – or discussed enough?

Fazeela: There are discussions about frontline communities in the loss and damage space, but it still feels like they’re on the fringes. And something else that hasn’t been discussed at all so far is about finding solutions for nature. In Kenya, we are losing a lot of our wildlife. We’re watching it die. This is having a huge impact on biodiversity. But we don’t even talk about it. Nor the plants, which are a vital part of the ecosystem. Not enough of this has been addressed due to a lack of resources and funding. Organisations like mine – which strives to protect my home country’s wildlife – very little support. This effects how easy it is for us to be listened to and it’s presents real challenge.


Thred: My takeaway from that is that the climate crisis is such an overwhelmingly multifaceted issue. It touches all who inhabit the world – whether that’s humans, wildlife, or plants. Of course, it’s always going to be difficult to cover that in a two week period but, as you say, there’s not enough focus on the areas that need focus. There’s not enough support for the organisations on the ground actually doing the work – the ones that most need the world’s support.
On this note, why is it so vital the diverse viewpoints of minority groups are incorporated into solutions?

Fazeela: Because we’re on the frontlines. We’re the people who are suffering the most. Think of the natural disasters that have been occurring in recent months. It’s us the minorities who are experiencing this first hand. If you live in the West, even when these disasters take place, the mechanisms to cope with them are so different.

This is due to the colonialist past that has put the West on a higher level of dealing with this crisis. But when it comes to communities like mine, we are left with minimal resources. Even our governments are struggling.

Though we are suffering the most, however, we also have the most solutions. Indigenous people have the knowledge, the resilience to confront this. They know what to grow in order to sustain their communities during a drought. They know how to work with heavy rainfall. It’s not only about how we’re being affected, it’s about having people truly embrace our solutions.

We don’t want people telling us what we should be doing. The solutions have to be led by us. We have every right to have a say.


Thred: The link between gender and climate change is not necessarily obvious to most. Yet women and girls are some of the most vulnerable categories of people who are having to not only confront the adverse effects of the crisis but really adapt their lives to cope with it. Given your experience with this, could you expand upon why it is they’re disproportionately affected?

Fazeela: From my working experience, we see women are the most affected by this crisis because they’re the ones that tend to their farms, fetch water, take their children to school.

The climate crisis is making period poverty a lot worse – in rural communities, people depend on small farms for their income. Whatever comes from this is used for food, medicine, and to support girls with purchasing sanitary products.

Because of drought, the crops are drying out and animals are destroying farms. This conflict between wildlife and communities is not discussed enough. From a community level, this is detrimental. Especially for single mothers. It’s a big disaster for women.

Another thing that isn’t looked at is the injuries women face. Last year we came across a lady injured by a buffalo during the drought when she was taking her four year old child to school. This situation brought to the forefront the inequalities we face because the closest medical centre was 80km away and didn’t even have enough facilities to treat her wounds. They had to transfer her to Nairobi and she couldn’t afford to pay the necessary $300. Can you imagine not having access to this?

These are some of the things that we really have to look into that are not being spoken enough about. We try our best to raise awareness through our networks, but it needs to be on a policy level.

We need to have these issues spoken about and, more importantly, we need to have policies that support people who are being affected this way.


Thred: What commitments are required to support communities bearing the brunt in fragile regions? Do you believe that COP27 has adequately addressed the needs of those on the frontlines and why is it so essential that their specific vulnerabilities take centre stage this solutions day?

Fazeela: Loss and damage has been heavily discussed, but it’s not about charity or aid by this point.

These are reparations and they’re long overdue. We have been exploited so much by the global north. It’s only fair that we are now able to sustain ourselves during a crisis that we did not create.

Knowledge is also so important. Ensuring that communities on the ground are self-reliant and able to themselves deal with the climate change-induced natural disasters when they take place.

We need to be ensuring that people on the ground are learning how to support themselves when crises hit and we can do this with education initiatives.


Thred: How should people in powerful positions be leveraging the opportunities presented by a just transition to improve the lives of those who are adversely burdened by climate change?

Fazeela: The priorities of frontline communities must be at the top of the agenda. There needs to be less lobbying from fossil fuel companies. As long as they’re generating the profits that they are currently, nothing will change.

I don’t think they will ever put people first. So we should start by removing polluters from changemaking spaces. Having Coca Cola as a COP27 sponsor was a huge betrayal – particularly for the African communities they have negatively impacted.

We need to have COPs that aren’t sponsored by polluters so more of civil society can take part in developing the meaningful policies and solutions that will hopefully be our saving grace one day.

We can’t be putting our trust in high-up individuals until we see they are no longer relying on revenue.


Thred: Time and time again, high-income countries have failed to commit to their pledges. Do you think that these promises will ever be met with real action and how can we ensure that they do?

Fazeela: I don’t think so because even when leaders are confronted they refuse to pay. Frontline communities don’t have the privilege of people in high-income countries to maintain inaction. We need the West to stand in solidarity with us.

Speak to your local governments, your MPs. Bring up our issues and push the agenda forward for them to adopt bills like this. Put pressure on them. At the end of the day, we employ them, our taxes pay them. So it’s only fair they do what we want.


Thred: People act when the threat of climate change becomes personal. How do we ensure that we’re all working together on this, a united front in the fight against the climate crisis? And how can we as individuals dedicated to the cause be holding the necessary people accountable for not only contributing to the crisis, but for hindering progress with their inaction?

Fazeela: Try and reached out to minorities and marginalised people in your specific communities. Join climate groups. Make sure you speak to your representatives and governments. Those sympathetic to the cause.

Push for policies that actually support communities like mine in the global south. And support grassroots organisations. It can be so frustrating to be faced with the realities of this crisis but to be lacking the resources to help.

When people reach out to us it goes a long way.


Thred: On the surface, initiatives seeking to give young people and minority groups a platform sound great, but they’re often divisive. If these people are still being left out of the rooms in which they can have substantial influence, how can they be guaranteeing that what’s being said is translating into tangible and impactful action both during and beyond the global focus of COP27?

Fazeela: Let’s be frank with ourselves, to get to a COP summit, you have to have privilege. I’m appealing to the activists who are well-known to help their less-known peers. To give them a chance to attend these conferences. It doesn’t have to be the same people over and over again. Let our work be diverse. When we empower each other, we go a long way.

Support one another for the benefit of every community. This is not a competition; we are all fighting for the good of our planet.


Thred: How can we go about keeping the momentum going post-COP and how should we be including new young people in the climate conversation between the annual events?

Fazeela: Make sure to rest. Post-COP, everyone’s experiencing burnout, so take care of yourself. When you’re ok again, do what you can in your community to keep the conversation going. You may not get the same exposure as you would during the summit, but don’t stop. We mustn’t stop.

 

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