As the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) gets underway in Glasgow, UK, CIVICUS continues to interview civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are undertaking to tackle them and their expectations for the summit.
CIVICUS speaks with Lorena Sosa, Operations Director at Zero Hour, a youth-led movement creating entry points, training and resources for new young activists and organisers. At Zero Hour, Lorena has supported the work of activists in Jamaica, the Philippines and Singapore, looking to create immediate action and bring attention to the impacts of climate change.
What’s the key climate issue in your country that you’re working on?
Zero Hour is currently committed to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies in US policy and filling the gap in climate-organising resources. We have recently accomplished this by organising the virtual End Polluter Welfare Rally, featuring Senator Majority Lead Chuck Schumer and Congressman Ro Khanna, and the People Not Polluters Rally in New York City, and assisting with the organisation of the People vs Fossil Fuels mobilisation in Washington, DC. We are currently working on revising a series of training activities to help our chapters learn how to organise local campaigns unique to their communities.
A lot of our actions demonstrate our desire to connect and collaborate with others involved in the movement, to uplift one another’s actions because it is hard to get coverage and attention on the actions that we are all organising. It is a beautiful thing to witness when organisers support each other; love and support is really needed to improve the state of the movement and the progress of its demands.
Have you faced backlash for the work you do?
Backlash to activist work certainly ranges on a case-by-case basis, especially for our international chapters, who face limits on protest and rallying because of government restrictions. Within the USA, the biggest backlash against the work we do is tied to the burnout of working and seeing no action from leaders who have the power to initiate action for our planet’s well-being. Burnout is really common in the youth climate space, especially because so many of us are trying to juggle between our academic, social and organising lives while trying to stay hopeful about the change that is possible.
In terms of staying well and safe from the impacts of burnout, I’ve learned that the best thing to do is engage with the climate community I’m in; I know I’m not alone in the concerns I have because my fellow friends and organisers and I constantly express our concerns to one another. There is no be-all and end-all remedy to burnout, but I’ve learned that taking time to care for myself and connect with my family and friends back home is incredibly helpful in staying grounded.
How do you engage with the broader international climate movement?
Our Global Outreach team and Operations team, which are led by Sohayla Eldeeb and myself, have worked together to shape communications with our international chapters in Jamaica, the Philippines and Singapore. We have held one-on-one office hours with our international chapters to help them work through any conflict in their campaign work and provide support in any way possible.
In terms of international campaigns, our Partnerships Deputy Director, Lana Weidgenant, is actively involved in international campaigns that bring attention to and foster education and action on food systems transformation to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and protect our environment. Lana served as the Youth Vice Chair of Shifting to Sustainable Consumption Patterns for the United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021, is a youth leader of the international Act4Food Act4Change campaign that has gathered together the food systems pledges and priorities of over 100,000 young people and allies around the world, and is one of the two youth representatives for the COP26 agriculture negotiations this year.
What hopes, if any, do you have for COP26 to make progress in tackling climate change?
I would want to see the global north remain accountable and committed to including US$100 billion for the global south to be able to implement their own climate adaptation and mitigation measures successfully.
So many of our perspectives at Zero Hour are centred around justice, rather than just equity, because we know that the USA is one of the largest contributors to this crisis. Leaders of the global north, especially stakeholders in the USA, need to end support of the fossil fuel industry and start committing to solutions that prioritise people and not polluters.
I would love to see all leaders attending COP26 take serious and impactful action to combat and eliminate the effects of climate change. Worsened weather patterns and rising sea levels have already proven that inaction is going to be detrimental to the well-being of our planet and all its inhabitants.
The recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has demonstrated sufficient evidence for our leaders to treat climate change as the emergency it is. I am hoping that all the global leaders speaking at the conference take the IPCC report’s statements into great consideration when drafting the conference’s outcomes.