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Rasha Rehman headshot

Those Most Affected by Climate Change Must Have a Voice in the Global Environmental Movement

Companies and NGOs are taking more action against climate change, but there's still little diversity and representation within the environmental movement.
By Rasha Rehman
Climate Change

Many poorer communities, and people of color, are stuck in a climate change loop as in enduring one natural disaster after another, along with ongoing climate change risks that disproportionately affects them. What’s troubling about this reality is that poverty often drives the decisions and circumstances of racial and ethnic minorities, such as their place of residence. Further, people of color often reside in areas that are susceptible to climate catastrophes or they live in regions where there is a high probability they can lose their land, as in regions where crops for biofuels are grown.

Hurricane Katrina exemplified this problem: 58 percent of communities affected by the 2005 storm were minorities and 80 percent of people who lived in the flooded areas were minorities as well. The repercussions of climate change have exacerbated financial hardship within these communities, further widening the existing gaps in incomes and economic opportunities.

In addition to the conversations about reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, the inequalities in climate action plans was a leading point of discussion during the recent Nobel Prize Summit. While it’s clear that global industry leaders, NGOs and companies are cognizant of climate research and are increasingly taking action on this front, there is one overlooked matter: the lack of diversity and representation in the global environmental movement.

The #ColorForClimate Campaign

During the summit, Svanika Balasubramanian, one of the co-founders of rePurpose Global, presented an eight-point agenda and petition as part of the #ColorForClimate campaign, which addresses the lack of diversity and representation in the global climate action movement. During the event, Balasubramanian introduced the need to include young adults of diverse backgrounds - many of whom are facing climate change challenges - in policymaking, corporate boards and advisory groups that focus on global climate movement.

Among the eight demands for which Balasubramanian and rePurpose Global are calling include: equal representation at climate negotiations; incorporating diversity in environmental financing; expanding and collecting climate research from the Global South; and investments in the developing talent in marginalized communities.

In an interview with TriplePundit, Balasubramanian explained the existing gap in the global climate movement. “People who are making the decisions and the people who are actually facing the consequences of the decision aren’t necessarily the same,” said Balasubramanian. “The conversations around environment and sustainability happens in these ivory towers even though the Global South and people of color are disproportionately affected by it.”

A gap in who causes climate change and who suffers from it the most

From 1990 to 2015, global carbon emissions increased annually by 60 percent. Oxfam has estimated that the wealthiest 10 percent of global population were responsible for 52 percent of carbon emissions while the poorest 50 percent were responsible for 7 percent of carbon emissions. Despite their low contribution, women, minorities and indigenous communities disproportionately experience the majority of climate changes consequences.

In other words, impoverished households in hot countries are more likely to be exposed to higher temperatures. In India, for example, the majority of workers in India’s agriculture and construction sectors are the most vulnerable to dangerous heatwaves. The same can be said for immigrants who work on farms in Californias Central Valley.

The gap between decision makers and vulnerable communities presents a huge global challenge. In 2019, minorities only comprised 20 percent of the U.S.’s top environmental agencies and foundations – in a country where 40 percent of the population is of a racial or ethnic minority background, and that percentage is increasing rapidly. If solution-focused conversations in these arenas exclude vulnerable communities, how can we ensure these global solutions will help everyone?

Offering a seat at the table for ignored voices

One of the petition’s demands includes introducing a “reality seat.” As Balasubramanian explained to 3p, “Every time you are making a decision, have someone who represents the reality of that decision at that table,” said Balasubramanian. “That needs to be someone who is under the age of thirty-five and is directly from the community that is going to be most affected about what you’re talking about today.”

According to Balasubramanian, creating a reality seat can apply for fair representations within governments, NGOs, social enterprises and even the financial industry. The benefits of creating these seats for diverse voices is not only patently ethical, but could also be rewarding from Balasubramanian’s perspective. “The solutions itself will be so much more efficient and so much more holistic and so much more long term in nature if we are listening to actually what happens on the ground and what is doable and what is effective,” added Balasubramanian. Equal representation within institutions also helps the development of partnerships with diverse groups and organizational funding.

Balasubramanian explained at the summit that she was often the only young person of color amongst industry professionals. To that end, the team at rePurpose Global is aware of the lack of diversity and the benefits of including diverse voices. The plastic credit platform is led by young individuals of color who help companies become “plastic neutral” by helping them fund plastic recycling equivalent to the amount they produce. Based in India, rePurpose Global funds plastic recovery and waste management projects in South America, Africa (including one in Nairobi, Kenya, shown above) and Asia. Some of these projects such as Asara Wealth Association have engaged informal waste collectors in informal employment and Saahas Zero Waste that has improved health facilities.

The global environmental movement cannot leave any community behind. While many individuals and organizations are diligently working towards reducing carbon emissions and coming up with solutions for climate action, there is still room for more including more people in finding ways to stop climate change. And who is better to include in this process, while ensuring everyone has a seat at the table, than the communities who are directly and disproportionately at risk the most by climate change and any potential solutions.

Image credit: rePurpose Global/Facebook

Rasha Rehman headshot

Rasha is a freelance journalist with experience in external communications and publicity. She is a Ryerson School of Journalism graduate and has worked on various media and communication campaigns in film, home development and the nonprofit sector. Rasha is passionate about storytelling for impact, whether she focuses on social enterprise, transforming our food system or making the business world more inclusive.

Read more stories by Rasha Rehman