Aryaana Khan (she/they) is a 20-year-old youth climate organizer located in New York City. She has been a part of the Youth Fundraising Advisory Board (YFAB) and a Senior Fellow at ACE, and is currently a Biologist in the making at the City College of New York. Aryaana will be attending COP26 in Glasgow next month as part of ACE’s delegation.
As she prepares to attend the conference, Aryaana has shared some thoughts around COP26 and the outcomes she is hoping for.
Raquel Martinez (RM): When did you first learn about the climate crisis? What was your immediate reaction?
Aryaana Khan (AK): I was born and raised in Bangladesh until I was about 10 years old. Growing up in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, I remember missing school for weeks at a time due to annual, monsoon flooding; political protests would also erupt like clockwork after these disasters as communities were deprived of resources. I did not know it at the time, but I was living through the climate crisis.
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City shortly after my family and I emigrated to New York, I began witnessing events similar to my upbringing in Bangladesh: subways got boarded up due to flooding, and I began to miss school again; some homes in Far Rockaway have yet to recover. This time, my immediate reaction was to research what causes such environmental upheaval, and realized that these events were perhaps not normal.
RM: How did you first get involved in climate activism?
AK: After witnessing Hurricane Sandy, I joined an organization called Global Kids at the age of 13, where I learned more about the science of climate change— a topic that was not widely covered in my public school education at the time. Consequently, I began advocating for a bill to mandate climate education in New York City with a dynamic group of young people; this snowballed into all the different things I have done in the climate movement thus far.
RM: Could you tell us about the work you’ve done with ACE?
AK: I became an ACE fellow at the age of 14 in the New York City fellowship program, which taught me a great deal about grassroots organizing and the policy world. Though I could not vote at the time, I learned that I could still advocate for comprehensive responses to the climate crisis: the ACE fellows and I tirelessly worked to pass The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which finally got enacted in 2019. I have since joined the ACE Youth Fundraising Advising Board, and represented them at the 2017 People’s Climate March in Washington DC, the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco, and the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. I have also received opportunities to educate other young people on climate science and climate justice through ACE and a NOAA-funded partnership with The Wild Center in upstate New York.
RM: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s COP26?
AK: Simply put, this year’s COP will be a deciding factor for the climate and future young generations are going to inherit— and I am looking forward to global leaders making key decisions accordingly.
RM: Which of the goals for COP26 do you believe is most important and why?
AK: I think all the goals for COP26 go hand-in-hand, and their intersectionalities will be critical in delivering results. We cannot secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach or adapt to protect communities and natural habitats without mobilizing finance and working together with those most vulnerable: from marginalized communities of people to other species in the natural ecosystems around us that we tend to overlook. Ultimately, I think it is crucial that an equitable distribution of resources and nature-based climate solutions emerge from COP26.
RM: How will you be participating at COP26?
AK: The UK COP26 President Alok Sharma has invited a group of young people and civil society leaders such as myself to be a part of the COP26 Youth Advisory Panel. Over the past year, we have been actively engaged with representatives of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference to voice the needs of our respective communities. Once at COP26, I will also be working as a youth representative from ACE.
Simply put, this year’s COP will be a deciding factor for the climate and future young generations are going to inherit— and I am looking forward to global leaders making key decisions accordingly.
RM: Are there other events you will be attending surrounding COP26? If so, which?
AK: I will most likely be speaking at the US ACE side-event called The Power of This Moment: Recommendations From the BIPOC Climate Justice Dialogue on Collaboration Efficiency for Justice40. The ACE Framework, based on Article 12 of the Paris Agreement, was presented as a crucial holistic guide to build climate action capacity needed for a just transition under the Biden/Harris Administration in the United States— and I will be speaking about my experiences as one of its youngest signatories.
RM: What role do you think young people play in the climate movement?
AK: One of the early lessons I learned included the fact that many young people like me are living through these extreme climate events firsthand, but don’t have the language to process the science of climate change or process the trauma of extreme climate events. By educating ourselves on solutions, we hold the key to a habitable future of our planet for generations to come. While we did not single-handedly cause the climate crisis, young people like me still have a responsibility to build on the climate movement, whose foundations have been set by generations of various indigenous communities all around the world.
RM: What are some tips you could provide young people who are looking to follow a similar path in the climate movement as you have?
AK: If you are rightfully overwhelmed by the climate crisis, start with local solutions. Whether you join an environmental club at your school, ask your parents to save on their electricity bill by switching to renewable energy sources, or start a local community garden— all that matters is that you start somewhere. By taking that first step, you are inevitably building upon the climate movement.
RM: Who are some of your favorite youth activists and/or conservationists and where can we find them?
AK: Some of my favorite youth activists are also my lifelong friends! Hakim Evans, who resides in New York City, can be found still working with ACE. Other ACE alumni such as Maxine Jimenez, Ananya Seelam, Celeste Tinajero, etc. are also doing awesome work.
RM: How can individuals support your work?
AK: If you live in New York City, show up to any local actions that my peers and I plan: from teaching workshops on climate science and climate justice to organizing for a local community garden in my neighborhood; find me on Instagram or Twitter for updates. If you want to financially support that work from elsewhere, here’s my Paypal and Venmo!
All photos courtesy of Aryaana Khan.
Answers may have been edited for length.
Want to read more? Check out the ACE Blog and stay tuned for more COP26 blogs!
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