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The Uncertain Future

In the midst of both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis, eco-femininst Ineza Umuhoza Grace shares why she believes it critical to choose to be positive every day
words & videography – ineza umuhoza grace
location – rwanda

My name is Ineza Umuhoza Grace. I like to define and present myself as an eco-feminist, impact-driven actor working in the climate change and environment protection sector. I believe in the ability to share the voice of the communities on the frontlines and raise both their concerns and hopes in a collective pursuit of climate justice.  

In my view, it is critical to remain positive in the midst of both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis. The latter has resulted in both non-economic and economic loss and damage at all levels including irreversible losses that can never be regained. Loss and damage can be defined as climate impact that either relates to slow onset events [e.g. loss of biodiversity, desertification, sea level rises] or extreme weather events [e.g. heatwaves, drought, flooding]. This can profoundly affect frontline communities. 

In Rwanda, where I live, as in many countries in the Global South, the climate crisis is an on-the-ground reality. In some cases, communities, policymakers and citizens have minimal information in accessing the tools needed to better handle the crisis.

The first time that I confronted the reality of a changing climate, I was five years old

Intense rainfall and wind destroyed the ceiling of my family’s home, and my family and I were forced to wake up in the middle of the night to save ourselves. When we returned, my bedroom looked like a lake. At the time I did not understand what had happened, but now I know and understand that the intensity of rainfall has increased in Rwanda – leading to regular disasters arising from flooding. 

I am now 26 years old and, to be frank, the situation hasn’t changed. Extreme weather events are more frequent and it seems as if the situation has evolved from bad to worse. Just two years ago in 2020, 4,000 hectares of land were lost in Rwanda due to flooding and intensive rainfall. Hospitals, roads, schools and houses were destroyed, and over 130 people died. These losses and damages are recognised but, beyond them, there is untold non-economic loss and damage such as mental health, safety and fear of a future – other factors that cannot go unseen. 

Given the context in which I am living my daily life and working to promote sustainable development and climate action in my community, my country and the world, it would be understandable if I allowed myself to lose hope in my future and give up on my dreams. To be honest, my dreams have changed recently and climate change has played a role in that. When I saw the way in which climate change was affecting my country I decided that I wanted to be involved in the fight for climate justice. 

Working in the field of climate change was already challenging before the COVID-19 pandemic, but this has made it even more difficult and complicated. The pandemic started in late 2019 and the first confirmed case in Rwanda was in March of 2020. As in the rest of the world, the pandemic brought lockdowns, travel restrictions and daily precautions to ensure that the virus would be contained and the rate of transmission and deaths would be reduced.

As a young female leader from the Global South, leading a youth organisation known as The Green Protector, COVID-19 has brought a whole other set of challenges. First, as like many around the world, we had to stop working together physically and begin working online. This was difficult given cultural norms and household challenges which exposed gender inequalities. Secondly, we had financial limitations, making it difficult to access strong internet connections, materials and online licences for the team. 

As the world’s media was – and still is – focusing on the impact of COVID-19 worldwide, there has been minimal attention on what countries in the Global South are experiencing. For most of us, COVID-19 and the climate crisis make it hard to see a future. This has affected sustainable development as resources are diverted from the country’s budget to address the pandemic.

At the same time, so-called “global donations,” which are in fact loans with interest to pay, are forcing our country into an endless cycle of debt, which is taking away from the future of the current generation

With everything going on in the world today, I could have given up. It is difficult to see how these dual crises are impacting households and communities in my country.  But as Rona Mlnarik said, “if the challenge exists, so must the solution.” 

I am deeply grateful that I am part of the generation that is committed to creating a better future by learning and working side by side with our elders. I did not give up and my team did not give up; our hope remains stable and we have learned a new way of achieving our dream. We choose not to see COVID-19 as a limiting factor. Rather, we choose to learn from the challenges of the pandemic and improve our solution to achieve global climate justice. 

After UNFCCC COP25 in Madrid, along with my friends and colleagues, I decided to establish a work stream focussing on loss and damage as well as youth. When the lockdown started, we opened up our laptops to connect with global youth, experts, mentors and policymakers. We shared our thoughts and ideas on how we could continue to work collectively towards our dream to achieve a better future regardless of the pandemic. After many such discussions, we realised that there will be no future if the climate crisis isn’t addressed effectively.

For us, the world needed to scale up climate action on all fronts – but particularly by addressing “loss and damage.” In June 2020, this “working group” became the Loss and Damage Collaboration [L&DC] and the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition [LDYC]

From this perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic can be viewed as an unfortunate opportunity that has ignited global youth around the world to come together. The result is a collective demand for ambitious action to address climate-induced loss and damage, while providing a space for youth engagement and leadership. To date, the LDYC has over 300 members from over 45 countries in both the Global South and North. We share our hope of a sustainable future by pressuring global leaders to take action to address loss and damage through sending open letters that incorporate our demands, training global youth, conducting a global campaign on ‘Loss and Damage Finance Now’ and ensuring that youth voices are sustained and empowered in the global discussion under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC]. 

The climate crisis is real, and now more than ever, everyone everywhere is exposed to its dangers. The COVID-19 pandemic should have been an unfortunate lesson to the world that we all share the same planet and we are all connected, but 

...leaders have failed to learn – instead, they choose to uphold inequity and injustice

Luckily, young people around the world understand this and have acted accordingly. We choose to stay positive by having hope for the future and doing our best to retain this in every moment. 

We must still have hope that we can address climate change and that we can also learn a lot of lessons from our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in addressing the climate crisis. Why can we not do for the climate crisis what we have done for the global pandemic? Are we going to choose to remain deaf to the pain of communities on the frontlines, or are we going to choose to take the necessary steps to achieving climate justice? Today, young people are committed to contributing the best of themselves to achieving climate justice but no one is too young or too old to make a positive impact for the global population and for our planet.

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