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UN Member of the Youth Advisory Group, Paloma Costa talks about a greener world

September 25th, 2020
topic:Climate action
by:Ellen Nemitz
located in:Brazil, China, USA, India
tags:Change Makers, climate crisis, deforestation, Fridays For Future

One year ago, in September 2019, Paloma Costa represented Brazil in the UN Climate Action Summit. Talking side by side with the Swedish Greta Thunberg, on that occasion she was the voice of all Brazilian and Latin American's youth.

Recently, the 28 year-old human rights defender was nominated to be one of the seven participants of the Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change for the United Nation Secretary-General. With a lifetime experience in the environmental agenda, she has been part of several groups and, during university, joined the Socio Environmental Institute as an intern. “[The experience] opened my mind to the impact of what I could do. Then in Engajamundo [an NGO found by young activists] I found people similar to me, also aiming to do something. That was a place where we could make pressure and lobby, sharing our voices and opinions, with this plural youth of Brazil”, she said during an exclusive interview for FairPlanet. 

However, she dedicates the honor of being part of the select UN group to a collective effort: “Young people are each time better at occupying these places. I hope I can open doors to other young people to have their voices heard, so we can effectively take this message we have been screaming out so much”.  

While the world leaders still resist to commit to the necessary goals of reducing deforestation and carbon emissions, she is optimistic: "I truly believe we have a future to come, a possible future, a free future, because we are at least arousing interest and curiosity about what is to fight for a collective good. And we are leaders and owners of this world now".  

Read below the whole interview, in which Paloma Costa analyses the current moment regarding environmental policies, the role of traditional communities and science, besides giving some advice on what we can all do to create a greener world. 

FairPlanet: How is it to represent so many different young people, from various countries, realities and cultures?

Paloma Costa: In order to answer this question we may have to take a look at the youth movement itself. If we think about who inspires me, who started to take the streets, the spaces, since the beginning of the world environmental conferences, they had a way of acting, and nowadays there are organized groups that developed methodologies to occupy spaces, transform them, that is, to really make a positive impact. 

We know that one of the main difficulties is that these spaces are elitist, composed by white, heteronormative, wealthy men. So, organizations worldwide bring knowledge to the table. There are new youths emerging now, connecting with the agenda, understanding the complexity of this “umbrella” of climate crisis, maybe under a bigger umbrella that is the systemic crises, a colonial collapse. So the main point is to understand how to connect the agendas, all coming from this great system crisis. If we don't teach since birth, in schools, what is the climate crisis, how would we expect them to in fact be in these spaces. In order to participate there must be information access, a high quality education. So the main barrier to connect children, with the beautiful view they have about the future, is to bring a discourse beyond "there is no planet B". And we must value any knowledge added to the discussing table. This is what we fight for: real participation spaces and a big systematic change for us to have a future.

Climate change is a problem involving companies and governments, so we need them to be committed. How can common citizens and communities deal with their own responsibilities in this context?     

Any drastic change we want to do has to be done collectively. It is like in Environmental Law: it is useless if one country has good and perfect laws, but the neighbor, where the source of a river is, has polluting policies. The world is like this: It is not enough if just some few countries commit to more audacious goals - and nowadays I don't think there is one very committed, they are just ok, not enough. It is sad to observe that the more audacious are the small islands, such as Marshall Island, and then China, Brazil, United States, India, among others great polluters, are not even willing to change; the opposite, sometimes there is the intention to go out of world deals. 

In this context, any attitude we have both individually or collectively is a political act. Our daily choices, what we consume, from information to products and food, are all political acts. So I think every person should be concerned about the individual attitudes: knowing what you are consuming, where your food or clothes are coming from, where the information you read is coming from - do you consume information from the basis, from people, or just mainstream media and WhatsApp talking? 

And there is the collective power of being in your community. You can, for example, talk to your neighbors and make an agroforestal system. Even if it is not enough for everybody's necessities, it is the basis of a community engagement, of gathering people to think about possibilities of improving life quality. The collective has a strong power and it is beautiful because it engages and reminds you that your relation is with this land. Land, by the way, is maybe our biggest treasure nowadays, considering climate change endangers it. Land is life, land is food.

We must also remember that is not just individual or collective. The elections are coming up in Brazil for mayors and city ​​councilors. Do you know who the candidates you are going to vote in are? Have you searched their proposals within your priority topics - education, health or environment, for example? Do you know what is being voted in the congress right now? 

Sometimes we think that all our efforts are useless, but it is important that we keep going, otherwise things could be worse, right?

We need to learn to celebrate every single little victory. As Davi Yanomami used to teach us: every victory is a victory to celebrate, one more fight day.

We are witnessing science once again being valued by people, in the context of the pandemic. What will be the role of science both in combating the climate crisis and in creating resilience, in your opinion?

When we talk about science, we have to talk once again about the systematic crisis. It is useless to think about science without thinking about support to education, to research, to innovation. Also, recognizing new ways of teaching and learning. We usually focus only on formal science. This is science, indeed, but there is more. There is the science of land, there are nature-based solutions, natural technological innovations, natural medicines that have been very useful in the pandemic combating - for example, in traditional and indigenous communities and territories. Carlos Nobre, in an article, talks about the necessity of bringing innovation to other systems, changing things like big scales and monoculture. We need to understand forest science, for example, and bring the scientific knowledge we have built as an ocidental society to gather and make it more efficient and protector. For example, it is possible to learn with the forest technologies and economy how to produce food for all of us. It is essential to base on traditional knowledge to lead the world. It is not possible anymore to keep on old ways of producing, like making big pastures and using oil

How can a sustainable economy also be economically viable?

Creating a value chain that we lost as a humanity. We are so ingrained in the capitalism of taking profit as the central goal, and then we forget that the central goal is, has always been and will always be life. And if we think about an economic value chain, but sustainable, that sustains our lives on earth, we will sure achieve the great point of understanding that standing forests are autonomy, sovereignty, surviving, maybe the major economic potential if we learn how to look at them carefully.

Image by Oxfam International

Article written by:
WhatsApp Image 2019-07-19 at 22.26.02
Ellen Nemitz
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© Instituto Socioambiental
Paloma Costa at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit.
Paloma Costa from Brasilia poses for a picture during the Global Climate Strike march on September 20, 2019 in New York City. - Paloma Costa, a young Brazilian environmental activist who helped the UN prepare an unprecedented youth climate summit this weekend, says Brazil can't waste any more time discussing whether global warming exists or not. The 27-year-old law student at the University of Brasilia urges world leaders to pressure the government of Jair Bolsonaro to act now to combat deforestation in the Amazon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A pioneer in launching school strikes in her city, the 27-year-old coordinates the climate task force of "Engajamundo", Brazil's largest youth organization with more than 3,000 volunteers. He also founded "Ciclimaticos", a collective of bicycle activists who document the impact of climate change on Brazilian communities. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)
People are arrested as environmental activists gather to protest to shut down the city during global climate action week on September 23, 2019 in Washington,DC. - Some 60 world leaders convene on Monday for a UN summit on "climate emergency" aimed at reinvigorating the faltering Paris agreement, at a time when mankind is releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than at any time in history. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)