Tackling Climate matters

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Sohara Mehroze Shachi
Freelance Journalist and Cofounder of Climate Tracker, South Asia

Following her graduation from Yale University, Sohara Mehroze Shachi created a career from her passion of environmental advocacy, the arts and writing. She has written extensively on climate change in both national and international publications as a freelance journalist. Sohara is currently leading the South Asia Hub of Climate Trackers and works at the UNDP for the empowerment of climate vulnerable people. She recently attended the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos as a Global Shaper, representing the voices of millions of climate vulnerable youth.

“Even If One Person Becomes More Environmentally Conscious And Brings A Little Change In Their Day-to-day Activities To Reduce Their Carbon Footprint, That Is An Accomplishment.”

Could you elaborate on your experience as a Global Shaper?
I am the Vice Curator of the Dhaka Hub of Global Shapers Community – a network of youth who are dedicated to bringing positive changes to their communities. As a part of the hub, I am currently overseeing two projects. One of them is The InvisiBellas – a project that uses street art as a medium to spark conversations on gender issues. The other one is Odommo, which aims at making Dhaka a more disability inclusive city by making public places more accessible to people with disability.

You have been educated in both Bangladesh and abroad, moreover, you hold interactive sessions in various institutes across the nation. What do you believe need to be implemented in the academic criteria in Bangladesh? How can we encourage women to pursue further education?
I think education can best prepare youth for the future by inspiring them to take action in the present to face the world’s greatest challenges such as climate change. Moreover, the 4th industrial revolution will make many jobs obsolete in the near future, necessitating a new set of skill sets and thinking process. The academic criteria need to be flexible and dynamic to account for such changes.
Women are already pursuing higher education in greater numbers than ever before, and statistics show that incoming classes of many universities have a higher proportion of males than females. The problem often arises when it comes to joining the workforce or climbing up the career ladder, as society prescribed gender roles often put women in a position where they are expected to be the sole caregiver of the family, thus putting them in an unfairly difficult position compared to their male counterparts. To give an example, we still talk about giving “maternal leave” instead of “parental leave” assuming child rearing as well as bearing, is the primary responsibility of the female. Such systemic gender discriminatory issues need to be addressed if we want to encourage women to not only pursue higher education but also be able to make a mark for themselves beyond getting a degree.

“Bhutan is often cited as the perfect example – the only carbon negative country of the world, meaning it absorbs more carbon dioxide each year than it emits from its factories, vehicles etc. The country with over 70% forest coverage is now aiming for zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.”

What inspired you to pursue a career in combating climate change?
Our country is one of the most climate vulnerable nations experiencing increasing frequency and intensity of floods, cyclones and droughts, and youth will be bearing the brunt of climatic impacts. In this context, the need for action is crucial, and I realized that as a youth the best way I can do so is by highlighting climatic issues utilizing the power of the written word. With that aim, I began writing in various national and international publications to raise awareness of global warming, fossil fuels, and renewable energy issues. I am also leading the South Asia Hub of Climate Tracker – the world’s largest network of youth journalists focusing on environmental issues, to help groom more youth advocates of climate action.

What are the major factors that equate to global warming in Bangladesh and how can we overcome them? How can we educate tomorrow’s youth to take an initiative?
As a country, we emit very little greenhouse gases compared to global levels, so our primary concern at the moment is adapting to the impacts of climate change. Our country has already made significant investments in climate interventions, including setting up the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund with $200 million. But as a resource constrained nation, we also need significant international financial and technical assistance, especially with exacerbating impacts of climate change.

You emphasize the necessity for millennial to act against climate change, why is it imperative that they act now? What are some of the actions that they can take?
Our generation is perhaps the last one that can end climate change, before it escalates to catastrophic levels, so our action is crucial. Sadly, many youths are either not aware of the impacts their actions are having on the environment, or think they don’t have the power to have a significant impact, and hence keep on littering or polluting, thinking it’s the government’s or someone else’s problem to solve.
The first thing the youth need to realize that success is not all about being able to bring policy change or making big corporations cut down carbon emissions. Even if one person becomes more environmentally conscious and brings a little change in their day-to-day activities to reduce their carbon footprint, that is an accomplishment. So what youth can at the very least do is reduce wastage and energy consumption on a daily basis by bringing small lifestyle changes, such as printing on both sides of the paper (and often not printing at all), walking instead of using motorized vehicles and reducing meat consumption.

Could you elaborate on your experience at Davos? Following your experience, is there any message that you would like to convey to young girls across Bangladesh?
As youth unattached to any organization and unrestrained by any vested commercial interest, we – the Global Shapers – were able to put many world leaders on the spot by asking questions many other Davos participants were not able to because of how much they had at stake. For instance, I was able to ask the Chairman of Saudi Aramco about the negative impacts the fossil fuel industry is having on the planet and the dependence on the industry on government subsidies for survival, which he acknowledged was unsustainable. I also did a Facebook live interview with the head of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) which was viewed by over 70,000 people where we discussed some of the critical environmental issues of today and the urgent need for the engagement of the private sector leaders who have gathered at Davos to safeguard the planet. I believe this is the greatest impact of our participation – to keep world leaders accountable and to force them to think beyond their organizations’ profit motive for the greater good of the society.
In terms of advice to girls, I would say we are living in an incredible age today when access to information is cheaper and easier than ever before, and there is a widespread recognition of the importance of gender equity. Girls need to capitalize on these factors and as Sheryl Sandberg says “lean in” to not only make the most of the available opportunities but also create opportunities where none exists. For instance, I mentored two girls recently who come from very underprivileged backgrounds from a remote village in Kaliganj of Lalmonirhat, who found out about a global public speaking competition from their headmaster, used a mobile phone to record their speech and uploaded it to youtube for submission. Today, these girls from Kaliganj are competing in Indonesia representing our country.

Are there any particular nations or programs that can be drawn to as an inspiration or an initiative towards climate change?
Bhutan is often cited as the perfect example – the only carbon negative country of the world, meaning it absorbs more carbon dioxide each year than it emits from its factories, vehicles etc. The country with over 70% forest coverage is now aiming for zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
I hope our country will draw inspiration from this neighboring nation to safeguard our existing forests such as Sundarbans and also increase our forest coverage as trees not only act as a carbon sink but also provide the first line of defense to many vulnerable coastal communities from the wrath of natural disasters, which are increasing in the wake of climate change.
We cannot compromise nature in the quest for economic development, and to that end, youth must act now.

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