Joelma de Souza, Isadora Gran, and Brenda Vitória could see pretty clearly how favelas and other poor neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro were suffering from climate change. More and more heavy rains unleashing floods and landslides burying entire neighborhoods in minutes. Droughts cutting farm yields and sending food prices up and up and up. The list seemed to just keep growing.
They could also see that no one in official circles seemed to be paying much attention, much less asking what they thought the government should be doing. So they set out to change that.
Their response was to create a letter asserting the climate rights of the neighborhood for policymakers, giving voice to the residents of favelas where they live about their concerns about how climate change is reshaping their lives and demands for real action.
They started from the ground up, holding meetings with local organizations, leaders, residents, and workers, talking to people about the many ways rising temperatures were compounding the challenges of basic food security, access to housing, and sanitation they were already dealing with on a daily basis. Critically, they also invited people to add their ideas on ways forward, compiling their demands and working with groups from The Climate Reality Brasil to the Latin American Climate Lawyers Initiative for Mobilizing Action to the Consulate General of Ireland to bring the letter to key decision-makers in Brazil and make them listen.
Their hope is that this kind of participatory process can be a model for other favelas and communities beyond their own in Rio, and show people everywhere that they can have a voice in their climate future. As they say:
"Believe you can make a difference in your territory! Meet with other people who are also concerned about the climate crisis, talk about this with other people, identify impacts on your community together, and think of solutions based on this exchange. Find support also so this local movement can gain strength and so that these solutions may become actual alternatives."
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In Their Own Words
What was the issue that you saw, and which solution areas is it related to?
Joelma de Souza: Environmental racism, based on climate change, understanding that favela territories and poor neighborhoods suffer from greater impacts in the light of the climate crisis.
What was your idea to resolve this and the end result you wished to achieve?
Joelma de Souza: A Climate Rights Letter of Maré [neighborhood]. Showing that this problem is important in this letter, which has been compiled by listening to residents and workers from the territory. The proposal in the letter is to be a participatory process that compiles community perspectives, uniting residents and workers from the territory in order to speak about existing demands relating to the climate.
Brenda Vitória: The hope is that the letter may sensitize public and private institutions to articulate agendas on climate change with residents and so that rights are no longer violated. In addition to this, the letter creates a methodology for other favelas and regions of Rio de Janeiro and other cities to debate the climate topic from the perspective of local residents and leaders.
Why is this solution important for your country and community?
Joelma de Souza: To give voice to residents of the territories and so that they may create proposals and solutions. It also provides for a proposal for informative continued education. It is important for the country as it may be a methodology for community participation, where people from territories in which the impacts are experienced can talk about their day-to-day problems, and based on this, creating proposals that will generate an impact and development for their lives and territories, which can be applied in various communities around the world.
What have been the greatest challenges that you have faced?
Isadora Gran: The favela territories are historically violated and rendered vulnerable, suffering from very serious questions such as the genocide of Black youth and the poor, unemployment, food insecurity, lack of sanitation, and lack of access to basic rights. One of the key challenges in compiling the letter was to understand how these issues are more palpable – and are so present in the lives of residents – but are also connected to climate issues. We tend to see these things – social and environmental issues – as separate. Understanding climate impacts on a day-to-day basis may be harder when you face many challenges during your daily life. The way we have dealt with this has been to make connections within a dialogue and exchange on how climate change also affects hunger, people’s health, etc.
How did you mobilize people to act?
Brenda Vitória: We created an attendance-based meeting within the region, with a series of local leaders and residents too, in order to understand their demands based on their perspectives and know-how.
Who were the key interested partners who worked with you?
The letter is being compiled by many hands. The organizations that first began working together in order to lead on compiling were The Climate Reality Project Brasil, Data Labe, and Faveleira. However, many more organizations from the territory were present at the attendance-based meeting to compile the letter and are collaborating regarding its implementation.
These include: Raízes da Mata, Redes da Maré, Lona Cultural da Maré, Luta pela Paz, Roda Cultural do Parque União, Maré Vive, Frente Maré, Roça Rio, Muda Maré, Lutes, Observatório de Favelas, Galpão Bela Maré, and Ecomaré. We also have residents from the region who are not necessarily in any organization taking part in the process. In addition to this, we have institutional support from LACLIMA - the Latin American Climate Lawyers Initiative for Mobilizing Action, and sponsorship from the Consulate General of Ireland and The Climate Reality Project Brasil.
What insights, ideas or suggestions would you offer to someone who wishes to act in a similar way?
Believe you can make a difference in your territory! Meet with other people who are also concerned about the climate crisis, talk about this with other people, identify impacts on your community together, and think of solutions based on this exchange. Find support also so this local movement can gain strength and so that these solutions may become actual alternatives.
How has this project that you created promoted equality or justice within your community?
We have subverted the usual logic for developing public policies and strategies for the community in favela territories. Proposing a process of collective compiling via the valorization of resident know-how and the accumulation of their experience and perceptions of their space.