As It Happens·Q&A

More than a year after her arrest in India, this climate activist is speaking out at COP27

A year ago, Disha Ravi couldn’t get a passport to attend the UN global climate summit in Scotland. So this year in Egypt, she’s making sure her voice is heard.

Disha Ravi is demanding ‘loss and damages’ financing from major carbon emitters

A young woman with shoulder-length brown hair and a nose ring stands at the front of a crowd of protesters, holding a sign that reads: "Pay up for loss and damage."
Indian climate activist Disha Ravi holds a placard as she takes part in the Fridays for Future strike during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Friday. (Emilie Madi/Reuters)

A year ago, Disha Ravi couldn't get a passport to attend the UN global climate summit in Scotland. So this year in Egypt, she's making sure her voice is heard.

Ravi, 23, is an Indian climate change activist who made headlines in February 2021 when she was arrested for supporting protesting farmers.

She had contributed to a toolkit — shared online by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg — with advice for activists looking to support the protests in India. She says she only edited two lines.

For that, India's police charged her with sedition. She was detained for 10 days and released on bail. After that, she was unable to get her passport application approved to attend the 26th Conference of Parties, or COP26, in Glasgow.

COP, the global decision-making body set up to implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and other international climate, meets every year. 

It took some wrangling, but Ravi has made it to COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where she delivered a list of youth demands to UN Secretary General António Guterres.

She spoke to As It Happens host Nil Köksal from the conference. Here is part of their conversation. 

What [has it] been like to meet activists, young people like yourself, from right around the world?

It has been very powerful because they're the reasons that I continue to do this work. They're the ones who inspire me, and give me the support and strength I need to continue doing this work. They're my hope.

What, specifically, did you tell the UN secretary?

I spoke to him about bridging the gap between non-UN bodies and UN bodies. This is the first time there's a UN youth office. But even that space isn't accessible to a lot of people who are on the frontline of the climate crisis.

So I spoke to him about how we can bridge this gap, how we can localize the UN bodies, and about how we need to ensure that those who are at the front line of the climate crisis have a seat in the negotiation space. 

Just about two years ago we did another interview on our program with another activist, but it was about you after your arrest in India. And I know one of the things you also asked for, you know, when you spoke to the secretary-general at that particular meeting, [is] protection of some kind for activists. Tell me more about that.

As a person who has been arrested and who's had to endure the harsh realities of what it's like to speak up and pay the price for it, I understand that people who are on the front line of the climate crisis experience different forms of violence. And sometimes that is from the government, and sometimes it is from big corporations.

It is important that environmental defenders, land defenders, and people who are on the front lines of the climate crisis are protected, and their freedom of speech and their freedom of mobility is protected, so that we can continue to live in a democratic country — not just in India, but in other countries, as well, in the democratic world — where we are respected for our work and not targeted.

Three young women in face masks stand among a crowd of protesters. The one in the centre holds a sign above her head that reads: "Free India's Daughter."
In this Feb. 15, 2021, photo, activists in Bangalore stage a demonstration against Ravi's arrest. (Majunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

There's lots of cynicism and concern and controversy that this summit is happening in Sharm el-Sheikh in the first place, given, you know, the tens of thousands of political prisoners being held in Egypt. And Greta Thunberg, as you know, boycotted this conference. But despite all the challenges to get there and the controversies around the location, you wanted to be there. Why was it so important for you to be there?

I respect, and am actually quite proud, of Greta's decision not to come.

But, for me, it was about not having access to these spaces. Greta is already an activist that is heard by millions. No one can silence her. But me and a lot of global South activists are still in that place where our stories need to be begged to be seen. And that's what we have been fighting for. We've been fighting to be heard.

And that's why it was important for me to come to COP. Because I couldn't go there last year, and I had to fight to get here this year, to this COP. For me, it was important to highlight the stories of my country and my community at a stage where I won't be ignored.

Even when I'm here, I'm still standing in solidarity with the political prisoners … because I believe that you can't have climate justice without political freedom.

I wanted to ask you, specifically, about the stories from India so our listeners in Canada, the U.S. and really around the world get a sense of just what you're up against there when it comes to climate change.

India is one of the worst impacted regions because of the climate crisis and … basically the poster child of the climate crisis. We've had to experience everything from heat waves, flooding, hurricanes, and any kind of climate impact that you can remember, obviously, we've faced that.

And even today, when I left my city, like a week before I left, it was flooding. People who are on the front line of the crisis are workers — people who, you know, work on a daily basis to earn their living. And they had their homes washed away. They lost their jobs because the things that they were doing [were] washed away in the floods.

The climate crisis isn't something that is going to be a future issue. It's already an issue. We're not just fighting for a better future. We're fighting for a better present.

If you are the one hurting something, it's your responsibility to fix it- Disha Ravi, climate activist 

"Loss and damage" is a phrase that's been talked about a lot at this conference. I certainly saw it on, you know, posters and signs that people were carrying. But it's been discussed as youth delegates took over the halls of COP27 yesterday. And that boils down to, you know, countries that are not the main contributors to climate change having to pay to deal with the impacts in their own countries. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and what you wanted to convey with that phrase?

It's simple. Global North countries, big corporations and big oil companies have been historic emitters of carbon. And they are the ones who are responsible for the climate crisis. If you are the one hurting something, it's your responsibility to fix it.

So here, when we ask them to give us climate financing, we ask them to give it to us in the form of loss and damages finances — adaptation funds, mitigation funds. It is to ensure that we are in a place where we can actually, not just survive, but have a liveable present and a future. 

And we need some details of how this money is going to come to us. And it shouldn't be in the form of loans. It should be in the form of grants and reparations. And they should cancel debt for global South countries.


Interview produced by Lisa Bryn Rundle. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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