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Interviews - issue #8

COP26: Honest Conversations

An interview with Mya-Rose Craig

Where the Leaves Fall contacted global changemakers for their thoughts and responses to this year’s COP26 - the UN Climate Change Conference. Dr Mya-Rose Craig, also known as Birdgirl, is a British-Bangladeshi naturalist, environmentalist and activist. She is also the founder and president of Black2Nature and author of the book We Have a Dream (Magic Cat Publishing). You can read the edited interview that was published in the print edition of Where the Leaves Fall here.

Where the Leaves Fall What do you feel are the most pressing issues for COP26 to address and why?

Mya-Rose Craig Tangible action in terms of climate change. I think for a lot of young people climate change is really frustrating because nothing is happening and so much could be done.

During lockdown, I had conversations with thirty young campaigners from Indigenous communities and communities of colour experiencing the stark reality of our changing planet for my book, We Have a Dream. The most hard-hitting thing about speaking to my interviewees was hearing how climate change is affecting them in their daily life. They have to fight for clean drinking water. They have to stand up to oil companies trying to take their land. They have been aware of these issues and have been fighting for them since they were young children.

I think it’s really important, particularly with all these climate conversations happening and with COP26, that we hear these voices.

‘I’ve read research that four out of five kids are suffering from eco-anxiety of some kind. The stress of how we’re going to cope with a planet in crisis.’

— Mya-Rose Craig

WtLF What outcomes (and practical measures) would you like to see emerge from COP26?

Mya-Rose The Covid pandemic has proved that governments are willing to act in extraordinary ways to protect the wellbeing of their citizens. The impending environmental crisis demands no less action.

WtLF How optimistic are you that COP26 will deliver positive change, and why?

Mya-Rose We’ve had constant empty promises from global leaders - anything active from them would be something. I’ve read research that four out of five kids are suffering from eco-anxiety of some kind. The stress of how we’re going to cope with a planet in crisis. Kids want to have honest conversations, but I think a bit of hope is also important. We need to give the next generation a reason to have hope.

Photographs by Oliver Edwards

WtLF What do the world leaders, and everyone else, need to change on a personal level?

Mya-Rose Prioritising global justice within the COP26 conversations is going to be incredibly important moving forward. Indigenous people and people of colour are disproportionately affected by climate change. And yet they are under-represented within the environmental movement.

The same really small group of people has been getting a platform from the media over and over again, and none of them are from the global south or from Indigenous communities.

Almost every non-western young environmental activist is presented as, say, “the Greta [Thunberg] of China”, when they might not be anything like Greta. We need to hear these different voices from outside the west and amplify what they have to say.

One of the things I wanted to do with We Have a Dream in particular, was seek out the voices of people of colour and Indigenous activists and amplify their voices, because they are so important to the environmental movement and we just aren’t given that much opportunity to hear from these people.

‘Almost every non-western young environmental activist is presented as, say, “the Greta [Thunberg] of China”, when they might not be anything like Greta. We need to hear these different voices from outside the west and amplify what they have to say.’

— Mya-Rose Craig

WtLF Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Mya-Rose The environmental movement was getting a lot of traction just as Covid hit. I think some governments have used the pandemic as a way not to talk about the environment. Obviously, Covid was extremely urgent. But climate change isn’t going away because the world had to deal with another big issue.

I’m really hoping that things are going to go back for the movement to where they were just as the pandemic was starting, in terms of the numbers, passion and traction.

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