Citizens of Unstable Governments, Vulnerable to the Climate Crisis, Are Forgotten, Says Activist
"To hell with your sustainability. My people are dying," said Pakistani activist Ayisha Siddiqa, 24, in a speech at the Climate Week in New York last September. In the months prior to the event, the country where she was born, in a tribal community in the north, suffered from severe floods that left more than 1,700 dead. " What was a climate disaster, natural disaster, then became a healthcare disaster. Then it became a women and gender issue and now all of that. It is a hunger crisis", says Siddiqa to Folha when asked about the current situation in Pakistan. The activist also took part in the World Economic Forum, in Davos, in January, and questioned the fact that there is a vulnerable group that has been systematically left out of the debate on the climate crisis: citizens of unstable governments. "Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, that whole belt that we now consider like the aftermath of the War on Terror is experiencing a climate disaster like no other. And people are not talking about it", highlights her, who moved to the United States when she was a child. "They don't have the education, the technical language, the political stability, the court systems, you name it. They don't even have that to cry out, hey, we are experiencing climate change!." For her, who is co-founder of the organization Polluters Out, through which she teaches a course for training young leaders, called Fossil Free University, new generations have already been able to stimulate debate within their homes. However, she says, they still need to be able to effectively influence changes in the systems. "We need the tools that our opponents have, which we don't have. We need lawyers, we need financiers. My prediction is the youth movement is headed straight to tackle the fossil fuel industry, that needs to happen", she says. Protesting against delays in tackling climate change caused by "the laziness of our politicians," as Siddiqa puts it, fatally brings anxiety to young people, she admits. "Experiencing climate anxiety and pessimism actually is not a signal of mental incapacity, or illness, or a problem. It actually means you are sane. Accepting and also articulating that pessimism means that you are attuned to reality as well." The situation in Pakistan right now is horrific. What was a climate disaster, natural disaster, then became a healthcare disaster. Then it became a women and gender issue and now all of that. It is a hunger crisis. The material reparations haven't gotten to the ground. We were given 9 billion dollars. I think 8 billion is still locked to a certain extent. And so my country is experiencing a crisis of such magnitude and a drought is expected to come next year. I don't know where things are going to go, but the political instability is so, so high right now. I just came back from the World Economic Forum, and I think sustainability and ESG markers and SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] markers are being taken on by corporations and companies as the most that they can do to combat climate change; Everybody has their SDG pin, everybody has their sustainability pin that they're wearing on their chest. Previously it was like pretending the climate crisis doesn't exist, now it is the same fossil fuel companies, it is the same corporations changing their logos, putting on a green hat, and being the leaders of a renewable transition. That is incredibly, incredibly scary to me personally, because if they are the leaders of the renewable transition, we didn't do anything to change. All we did was hand over a different economy to the same corporates, allowing them to go away with it. Its a drug, right, and we are running out of it. How we get there is not the question, it's how fast we get there and how intentionally, because we are headed there anyway and we're then we're going to be scrambling and then when the withdrawal symptoms hit, we're not going to know how to deal with it collectively. The Ukraine and Russia war is a fine example of that. When the drug is running out, when the thing that we have become so heavily dependent on is running out, there's just economic fall, there's chaos, there's rent that people cannot pay, there's a lack of water. There's just and then a country like Germany, which was promoting mitigation at the UN, opens a new [coal] mine. In order for us to have a just systematic change, local change and personal change it must actually be initiated at the top level so it trickles down, and it has not been initiated at the top level. Vulnerability is complicated because somebody who is not vulnerable determines if you are vulnerable. One class of vulnerability we constantly leave out are the citizens of unstable governments. And so Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, that whole belt that we now consider like the aftermath of the War on Terror is experiencing a climate disaster like no other. And people are not talking about it. And it is so extremely interesting because that is also the area of the world that the United States, the United Kingdom and the West went into to get oil. So what about the citizens of unstable governments where in fact the climate crisis has gone? They don't have the education, the technical language, the political stability, the court systems, you name it. They don't even have that to cry out, "hey, we are experiencing climate change!". The reason why environmental law, in my opinion, is an incredibly, incredibly important asset is that treaties that are coming out at the international level regarding climate are not binding. The US does not meet us NDCS this year, practically, nobody can force it to hold up its NDCs. Same goes for Brazil. Same goes for Canada. Same goes for Egypt. The law is now being used as a compliance filler. I think in the next coming years there's gonna be a lot more lawsuits from communities to their governments, from governments to other governments. At the same time its not as promising as it seems because every time a legal framework is established to push a fossil fuel company back, a corporation back, a government back, they find another way to get to destruction. So we're going to have to be creative too. One thing to look at right now is the case that the country of Vanuatu and the Island Nations are presenting in front of the International Court of Justice. What they're asking for from the International Court of Justice is to put forth an opinion that violation of climate, a violation of climate targets the nation states are doing, is a violation of human rights. If the ICJ puts forth this opinion, it's going to allow for a great deal more legal precedent. How do we make litigation more accessible? It's not accessible. It's really difficult. Something that I've been working on in order to fill this gap is called the Climate Legal Defense Network, because it is so unfortunate that when land defenders and activists are endangered, they don't know who to call. We need to have an international mechanism so that when you are in danger you can pick up the phone, call somebody and have activation ready for your support And we need more human rights and environmental lawyers. Right now, the biggest consulting firms will bring in environmental lawyers who have studied property rights, or lawyers who have studied criminal law and use them against communities, as opposed to use them for communities. The striking worked well, did its purpose of getting the issue into the houses of everybody and becoming a conversational topic. Check that box off. Now we need to kind of push the systems internally. In order for us to do that, we need the tools that our opponents have, which we don't have. We need lawyers, we need financiers. My prediction is the youth movement is headed straight to tackle the fossil fuel industry, that needs to happen. The COP of Biodiversity was very interesting. Now businesses are coming together for a new language called "nature positive". And, in my opinion, it's really like, alarm bells start ringing, when 50 corporations suddenly want to sign on to something that is supposed to be environmentally friendly. At COP15, the thing that governments were pushing for with corporations was a kind of biodiversity offsetting. So you plant trees in one part of the world, to make up for the fact that you are cutting down trees in another part of the world, and also you disqualify the species, the biodiversity, the nature, the time it will take for the thing that you just destroyed to grow, but you plant trees other places. It will create a system of imperialism, but instead of debt being the mechanism where countries gain power, now it's land, now it's biodiversity, now it's species, now it's resources. And biodiversity is an untapped market. My organization is called Polluters Out, and the president of this conference is the CEO of the oil company. I think the conflict of interest is beyond, beyond, mind boggling. The COP is happening in Dubai, where it's supposed to be the area that represents Asia, one of the wealthiest countries in Asia, so far from reality, where there is barely a civil society, and, frankly, as somebody who's been trying to work to change these systems, I can tell you how difficult it is. It is so hard, it is so slow, it is so bureaucratic, every single word counts. I'm done with the COPs. And I say this as somebody who comes from a country who depended on the COP to get the loss and damage money and mechanism, because that was a lifeline Increasingly, every year is becoming a joke, and this year it's going to be more panels, more talking, more public speaking tournaments, and it's a way for countries to applaud themselves, to have themselves on the back for doing the bare minimum, and then there's just really interesting taglines. "COP for implementation", "COP for inclusivity". My gosh, I am tired of the words. I think about it sometimes as like if this was any other situation, if lowering your carbon emissions was just homework that you had to do, it is 23 years late. The laziness of our governments and politicians is mind boggling to me. Because in no other sector would this be tolerated. You'd be fired from your job if you did this. You'd be expelled from school if you did this. So, why you are so lazy, I dont understand. So, I did a long research paper that I recently published in a medical journal on climate anxiety and the pessimist that I am explaining to you. Experiencing climate anxiety and pessimism actually is not a signal of mental incapacity, or illness, or a problem. It actually means you are sane. Accepting and also articulating that pessimism means that you are attuned to reality as well. I'm not in the business of selling false hopes and false dreams. I leave that to the politicians. I think that Im trying to do the best I can to preserve what I have and what we have while we still have the time. That's why I'm acknowledging all of the unsavory facts with a perhaps naive, perhaps childish sense of hope. Because in order to really say what we have left, we're going to need more love than ever, ever before. We're going to need more blind hope than ever before, and we're going to need more blind commitment than ever before, and if I can be one of the people who has that, then so be it. Yes. "Fight" is the best word to go together with "love". Because when you love something so much, you fight for it, you fight to preserve it. And in my opinion, it is fundamentally a fight for the love of humanity. I don't think that humankind loves itself enough. That's why I think it's a fight fundamentally for love, because we are being asked to invest in a tomorrow. Our children, the youth, are asking us to invest in ourselves. The planet, believe it or not, is not on a like a vengeance where it wants to to just destroy us or exterminate us. Mother Earth itself wants us to live. Climate activist based in the United States, she belongs to the tribal peoples of Moochiwala and Mahsan, in northern Pakistan. She studied at Hunter College (USA) and became a research fellow for the Climate Litigation Accelerator at NYU Law School. She is co-founder of Polluters Out and Fossil Fuel University, initiatives aimed at training young leaders for climate justice and the exclusion of the fossil fuel industry. is a series of reports and interviews with new players and experts on climate change in Brazil and around the world. This special coverage also focus on the responses to the climate crisis during the 2022 general elections in Brazil and at COP27 (UN Climate Conference in Egypt, in November 2022). This project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.