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The COVID-19 response shows the real potential of what united climate action could achieve

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Erin Fowler, a young climate activist from Scotland, recalls the passion of local communities as they work together with global citizens to tackle transborder issues like climate change and plastic pollution. Recognising the real potential of united climate action, she calls on the international community to work together, as it has in response to COVID-19, to create a more just and sustainable future.

This blog is the fifth in our intergenerational series "It will take all of us: never too young to lead on the climate crisis" and features an introduction by Gro Harlem Brundtland:

“Young people have not been sitting back and waiting for older generations to act on the climate crisis – they have demanded action, and the world has started to take notice. Erin is an example of a young woman who is personally passionate about the environment, but who has realised that the protection of local species can only be achieved with a global effort to create a more sustainable world for us all. Yet, globally, there is a lack of youth representation in politics, and by extension, young people are often not granted the space and visibility they should be in formal decision making processes. Young people like Erin are in touch with the development of policy, the findings of scientists concerning the climate, and they want to take action.”

Scotland is home to a huge variety of wildlife, and I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time exploring this environment thanks to my dad who was determined to pass down his love of birds of prey. One of my most prominent memories is of me posing for a photograph for my dad with a huge grin on my face as I proudly show off a small barn owl sitting on my gloved hand. I remember being immensely excited to be so close to, what was then, my favourite bird even though my little arm was struggling to stay upright. After this moment, I became obsessed with learning about the natural environment and geography soon became my favourite subject at school. I was able to further my interest in it by volunteering for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and I became the sub-editor of the society’s first edition of the ‘Young Geographer’ magazine at the age of 16. The magazine aimed to provide a platform for young people within Scotland to express their concerns regarding environmental issues like climate change. I got to meet and work with other young environmentalists and we were given the opportunity to present the magazine to Roseanna Cunningham at the Scottish Parliament.

During this time, it was unusual for young people to be given a platform from which they could use their voice to highlight important issues in an attempt to instigate change. It was often assumed that younger generations did not care or lacked the experience needed to understand complex problems like climate change. I found this to be extremely frustrating because by excluding young people from conversations, you deprive them of the opportunity to help shape the future that they will ultimately have to live in. Younger generations were often undermined by those in positions of power, and so the ‘Young Geographer’ sought to prove this wrong, demonstrating the great care and concern young people have towards the present and the future. Since then, youth involvement in major issues has dramatically increased around the globe, and this is particularly notable within environmental activism. This is especially true in Scotland where youth-led organisations like the 2050 Climate Group have been established to empower young people to engage with climate change.

Glasgow is a hub for environmental activism as it hosts all sorts of environmental events and it is home to many groups that work on climate action and conservation in both Scotland and abroad. In 2018, I got the opportunity to join a team of young researchers and we embarked on a three-month long environmental research expedition to Trinidad & Tobago. It was an invaluable experience that allowed me to participate in projects including learning about environmental hazard awareness, the impacts of urbanisation on bat species, and sea turtle conservation. As part of the trip, some of us were able to visit one of the world’s most important leatherback turtle nesting sites that had previously been visited by Sir David Attenborough and featured on the BBC’s Blue Planet II series. We helped collect the hatchlings that were emerging from their nests during the day and chatted to the conservationists working on the beach. Much of the conservation work there is organised and carried out by local people who work tirelessly to protect their local environments however they can. This is no easy task as many of the issues they attempt to combat, like climate change and plastic pollution, are transboundary, meaning that citizens from all round the globe need to work together to overcome them to conserve this species and many others. Their passion left a lasting impact on me and I often look back on this experience as a way to motivate me to work on climate action.

Since then, I have started to use social media to create content that communicates environmental issues in a more accessible way. I originally started doing this to share some photographs and stories from my time in Trinidad, but I now use it to share experiences from anywhere in the world – home and beyond. In doing so, I have tapped into a whole network of environmentalists sharing their experiences and I am learning so much from this. Being a part of this online community is also an important motivator for me as it constantly reminds me of the value of the natural environment and the different ways in which we can all do things to help protect it for many generations to come. Although bad news tends to dominate the mainstream, particularly about environmental issues, social media platforms provide spaces where positive stories can be shared, allowing us to celebrate all successes – big and small – and reminding us that there is always hope. This is still a relatively new avenue for me, but I always feel encouraged to continue building my platform as I hope to help an already flourishing community of environmentalists to engage others on local and global environmental issues. The natural environment continues to inspire me just as much as it did when I was little, and I am very excited to pursue a career within the environmental sector in Scotland.

Scotland has been preparing to host the upcoming COP26, but due to COVID-19 it has been delayed and climate action around the world has had to change while we work together to overcome the virus. This crisis is demonstrating how the international community can pull together to solve global issues, and this illustrates the real potential of what united climate action could achieve in the near future. In these uncertain times, it is important to try to remain positive about the future ahead. We can work together as an international community to tackle such emergencies and to create a more just and sustainable way of living for all.

Erin Fowler lives in Scotland and has been engaged in environmental action for a number of years. She first got involved in volunteering for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS). At the age of 16 she became involved with the society’s first edition of the ‘Young Geographer’ magazine. She has represented the ‘Young Geographer’ at RSGS award ceremonies, presenting the magazine to people including Christiana Figueres and Manuel Pulgar Vidal. Her undergraduate research project focussed on the practicality of the Scottish Government meeting their goal to ban the landfilling of organic waste by 2025 as part of their efforts to limit Scotland’s impact on the environment. She graduates university in 2020 and plans on remaining in Scotland to complete a masters degree in environmental management.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation

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