“We have 10 years to act,” says Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, climate change activist and Director of the Association of Fulani Women and Indigenous Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), when asked how much time we have left to save the planet. Her fight? To show the great powers that the knowledge of indigenous peoples can bring a stop to climate change worldwide.

With origins in the semi-nomadic pastoral community Fulani Mbororo, Oumarou Ibrahim tells Blasting News how her community has been impacted economically and socially by the ecological crisis while sharing the solutions to fight “this climate injustice”. As she puts it: "This is our future, we must not let it go!"

You started your fight at 15 years old. How did it happen?

I started my fight against global warming when I was in elementary school. We were already starting to see that other children discriminated against us because we came from a nomadic community.

From there, I decided to fight so that we would be recognized. Then when I was a teenager, I had the chance to continue going to school and it was there that I saw girls married at 10-12 years old who could not do what they wanted. This is how I decided to build a framework for the protection of the rights of young girls. I immediately realized that I couldn't talk about protecting human rights without talking about protecting the environment because my people depending on the environment. I couldn't talk about the rights of young girls either without talking about the rights of the whole community.

So I created the Association of Indigenous Fulani Women of Chad at the age of 15 where I started to fight in order to improve the living conditions of nomadic and semi-nomadic Fulani communities in Chad through the promotion of human rights and environmental protection.

As a member of an indigenous community, climate change impacts you first as you migrate with the weather and “nature is your supermarket”.

How did you perceive this change?

When I was a child I used to go with my grandmother to milk the cows. However, ours are not dairy like the European ones, which are intended to produce liters and liters of milk. Back then, they gave at least two liters in the morning and two liters in the evening. Now, during the rainy season, they give a maximum of one liter in the morning and in the evening.

In the dry season, we milked once in the morning or in the evening, but today we only get one drink and that every two days because the first day we milk for our consumption and for sale and the second we leave the milk for the veal. This quantity impacts food security within the community and therefore our economy which is based on livestock and its by-products.

In addition, there are several lakes and several branches of the river which have dried up. The places I knew during the rainy season have completely disappeared. This causes the scarcity of natural resources and has an impact on wild fauna and flora. Everything has disappeared over the years, the insects, herbs and trees that I knew no longer exist or are very rare.

Climate change not only impacts the environment but also has a role in the development of our societies.

Can you tell us more?

For us, climate change is not only impacting the planet since our economy is built upon changing seasons. More than 70% of the population depends on animal husbandry, fishing, and agriculture. My people are not dependent on a salary at the end of the month. If the rainy seasons are not good or if the dry seasons are much drier, our food security and our economy are impacted. This will change the social way of life within the communities.

We try to look for alternatives during the dry season, which causes the men to go to the cities to look for work to finish the months and provide for their families. But it takes time to find a job in the city, so they stay several months and don’t return if they have not found it. It affects their dignity, which is a powerful concept amongst men in our societies and creates internal migration.

There is also the movement of inter-regional communities, which means that they leave one region to go to another. All of these internal migration systems create community conflicts and divide societies because everyone wants to access limited resources.

You advise governments to use indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge to achieve greater resilience for our survival needs in the face of climate change, by mixing them with the technology and science of Western countries. What is your vision for this project?

This traditional knowledge is not applied internationally because people promote scientific knowledge to save the planet. This is where I disagree. If we start with scientific and technological knowledge, it will always stop in cities and it will not arrive in rural communities which only have their science-based on nature.

I try to use modern science, traditional education, and technology to build solutions that meet the needs of all communities. Scientists and researchers lack expertise about community priorities and how their ecosystems are impacted. We cannot decide on solutions without consulting the people on the ground. This is why I would like to use the scientific and traditional knowledge of these communities to build lasting solutions.

You have created a participatory mapping project to identify the expertise of indigenous communities to manage remaining natural resources. What’s the status of this project?

Participatory three-dimensional mapping is built with the communities, by identifying all their traditional knowledge that is listed in relation to previous years and in relation to the future.

This creates an intergenerational exchange between the elderly and the young, but also between men and women. Once we're done, we digitize the map. So we have a raw map and a digital map. This allows for planning and decision-making by communities in the governance of resources, and also to discuss with governments whether they need to decide on policies or legislation. In this way, they take into account the needs of the communities who are the ones who know their environment better. This also allows communities to participate if there is a development project to discuss before setting it up. They can have a say in the projects and be active in the development of their region.

In 2015, COP21 gave you the floor. The traditional knowledge of communities was taken into account for the first time and indigenous peoples were valued.

How do you perceive your status 5 years later?

At COP21 we negotiated for the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and for their knowledge to be recognized as tools and solutions in order to fight against climate change. States have finally recognized it for the first time after twenty years. States have decided to create a platform for the exchange of the knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities in Decision 135 of the Paris Agreement. It’s a source of pride for me that after all this struggle, they recognize that we are also engineers of our environment and that we can protect it. Last year there was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that said the best-protected lands are where the indigenous peoples live.

We are moving step by step, but we have not yet achieved what we want. Time is running out; there is an emergency.

Following COVID-19, COP26 has been postponed, no date has yet been set. You say that we have less than ten years to fight climate change. What do you think of this decision?

Unfortunately, the health crisis affects the whole world. What we need is not just to come and talk at summits, although this is very important to make collective decisions around the world. Just because these meetings have been postponed until next year, it does not mean that actions must stop. We don't have time, the seasons don't stop because there is COVID. So with or without COP26, I call for action.

How can we implement concrete actions on the ground?

For us, what is important to remember after COVID is how states have committed to taking action to boost the economy and elevating science.

But there is no vaccine for climate change, the only vaccine we have is concrete action on the ground for the adaptation and mitigation of climate change - such as eliminating the use of fossil fuels or renovating all buildings so that they are environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient. The same goes for coal and prioritizing renewable energies.

In addition, we must not forget the real financing for the fight against climate change. In 2009, developed countries pledged $100 billion to provide the least-developed countries with a climate change framework by 2020. It is already the end of 2020, and the $100 billion target has not been met. There is no political will, which is deplorable and should be replaced with redoubled action. We have 10 years to act, they see that 10 years is far away.

What are they waiting for?

How can we make citizens all over the world feel individually concerned by the ecological crisis?

Covid has affected presidents, great powers like the United States, the United Kingdom, governments but also major actors and personalities. So people feel concerned because it can affect rich and poor, developed and developing countries. But for climate change, there is an injustice because it is the wealthy that create climate change. If it is one degree hotter, they can turn on the air conditioning. If it is one degree lower, they put the heating on. However, the poorest and most vulnerable do not have that luxury. It is this climate injustice that must be tackled. We are all human beings and we are all equal. We don't have time and we have to fight against this climate injustice and include everyone.

It is our present and it is your future that is at stake, we must not let it go!

Read the interviews with Svein Tveitdal, Carlos Nobre and Jeroom Remmers, all part of the BlastingTalks series about climate change.

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