The Human Rights Impact Institute (HII) is a 501(c)3 charitable organization that advocates for human rights through arts and culture. The following conversation includes Meridian Global Communications fellow, Kristina Arreza, talking to HII’s Leonie Hüppe, Global Project Coordinator, and Delaney Accomondo, Program Coordination. Hüppe and Accomondo attended COP26 to assist HII with their installation, “Climate Crossroads: Stories of Indigenous Women and Youth Leaders.” The two share their reflections and thoughts of COP26 from a youth climate leaders and climate activist perspective.
To start, what were your main objectives and expectations at COP26?
Hüppe: We have one main exhibition that we were bringing called Climate Crossroads: Stories of Indigenous Women and Youth Leaders. It highlights indigenous people from the Global South, mainly women and indigenous youth leaders. Our role was primarily to install the exhibition at The Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow and then present the exhibit outside the “Blue Zone” where the COP (COP26) is happening the following week. Individually, we’re connecting with other youth leaders and taking to other delegations within CCA to promote the project and bring those voices into the conference.
The Human Impact Institute aims to “bring new voices into the room to amplify personal stories and actions” through art and activism. With HII, how has art conveyed a sense of climate emergency in ways that activism has not, and how is the climate emergency reflected in the arts?
Hüppe: Art makes climate change on the climate crisis personal. It’s not just this big green unattainable topic or an environmental topic or all about science; it’s also about the people. So bringing a personal story of someone affected by the climate crisis and other individual inequalities and injustice that come with the crisis can inspire activism and bring awareness to this issue. I think [art is] powerful because to some, it’s easier to relate to than the big science theme at COP26.
Accomondo: [Climate crisis] urgency is conveyed in the words of the indigenous folks that we interviewed. It’s what they wanted to bring to COP and have other people see. Plus, art and activism must go hand in hand; the art that we are bringing is highlighting the vision/activism of people in various communities so much so that even if they can’t be here, other people can see their goals, ideas, and actions to know more about their lives and conditions.
How is GenZ righting the exclusionary wrongs of the past? What issues are Climate and environmental activists tackling daily within your own communities? Who are the voices in your community or field who are pioneering solutions?
Accomondo: She Changes Climate is one of the organizations trying to include at least 50% of diverse women in the decision-making process into actual delegations. Even with gender imbalance, there’s such a small percentage of women and BIPOC being represented. We saw Alecia Amancio of Unite for Climate Action speak about youth from the Global South and Latin America trying to mobilize the whole Global South for climate action and demand the same things because things are more powerful in numbers. That’s what’s so powerful about all these youth groups coming together and demanding action. [Higher-up leaders are] finally seeing how many people can come together and demand the same thing.
What are some of the most effective ways young people are forcing the public and private sector to act on the climate crisis? Are there specific Sustainable Development Goals that young people are more effective at advocating for or more willing to focus on?
Accomondo: World leaders finally have to listen to us because they realize our voices can no longer be avoided. Youth groups and other climate communities are able to mobilize large amounts of people [digitally and in-person], and we manage to educate and get these people on the same page.
Regarding SDGs, we’ve been talking a lot about consumer guilt and how that guilt is put on the consumer. [The environmental issue of supply] production should go first because they’re the ones making [products] and forcing consumers; a lot of those who don’t have a choice other than to buy the cost-effective things that they can afford, and that’s really their only option. So much guilt and blame are put on consumers, when really, what other choices do we have?
Hüppe: One of the predominant conversations inside COP right now is to be “net-zero by 2050”. There’s so much focus on emissions and the carbon market, but how do we achieve these SDGs without changing the whole system? People outside of COP demand that climate justice means that climate change is merely one part of a broken system consisting of inequalities, power dynamics, the history of colonialism and extraction and exploitation…but that’s not the conversation happening inside. To have this conversation inside, people have to, especially people from the Global North and industrial countries, have to admit that they’re responsible.