Nepali climate activist makes waves

Shreya KC attended her first environmental science class at university completely by chance.

KC knew little about the environment and had not heard much about climate change. At home and in high school, she had learned about minimising consumption, reducing waste and reusing.

“I could recite the definition and theory of all those terms, but I had no idea about the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis,” recalls KC, now 23.

After graduating from high school, she considered taking up dentistry or  microbiology, and enrolled in Bachelor in Science at Tribhuvan University, where she was assigned to the environment program.

It was only after she turned up for the first lecture in a small, dimly lit but packed room that she realised it was on the links between economic growth and nature conservation.

“In the introductory class, the professor told us that we would become environmentalists,” KC recalls. "He spoke about local communities impacted by  climate change, and about the challenges he had faced as an activist himself. That was so inspiring.”

That first class was an experience that KC describes as finally waking up after long slumber.

Right after that very first day at university, she began to read up on environmental issues and started looking into organisations she could volunteer at. This eventually led her to the Nepalese Youth For Climate Action (NYCA) and its conference on climate change.

“Back then I didn’t have any social media account so I wrote to them from my sister’s Facebook,” says KC, who applied to participate along with a friend.

The organiser said there was no space, but KC refused to give up hope and called them up asking them to let her participate if someone dropped out, which turned out to be the case.

The conference opened up a whole new world for KC, and gave her exposure to ideas and opportunity to meet environmental experts and activists.

“The climate crisis was so vast and global in scale that I was nervous and did not know how one individual could make a difference,” she says. “But the people I met at the conference gave me hope. I also learned a lot from researchers, scholars and young activists like me.”

KC began to volunteer for the NYCA, of which she has since become the network coordinator. She also began teaching young children at a school nearby her home.

Shreya KC with the NYCA team.

Not long after she got an opportunity to attend the UN Youth Climate Summit in the US but it fell through when she was unable to get a visa. She then found out about the Youth Climate Scholarship, which would fully fund young people from the global South to attend the Climate Summit in Madrid in 2019.

KC participated in several meetings and spoke about the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) of the Paris Accords at a conference representing the children and youth constituency at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“Meeting other young activists like me from other countries gave me a lot of hope,  that together our generation could make a difference to save the planet,” says KC, who met delegates who were wary of young activists and did not want to be caught lying.

But back in Nepal, KC found it much more difficult to get officials to take youth activists seriously. “Even other NGOs working on climate change do not believe in the young activists, so we can’t expect the government to do so,” she says. “They assume youth are ignorant about the world, and they are reluctant to share their ideas.”

As the Himalaya suffers from a worsening impact of the climate emergency, there is a need for representation of young people from across Nepal’s diverse communities so that their concerns are heard.

“We no longer need decisions that will affect our generation to be made without us,” says KC. “We are building a climate movement, and while we are not responsible for today’s climate crisis, we cannot afford to step back.”

The young activist believes in finding local solutions suited to Nepal’s indigenous communities to adapt to the impact of the climate crisis, instead of copying inappropriate ideas.

Nepalis have failed to understand that climate change is a cross-cutting issue and is directly linked to sustainable development and sound economic policies.

After five years of climate activism, KC’s effort seems to be making waves. In April 2021, she was featured in Gayle Kimball’s Climate Girls Saving Our World. And in June 2021, she was one of 100 young climate activists from across the world featured in Marianne Larned’s Stone Soup for a Sustainable World: Life-Changing Stories of Young Heroes. 

But the 23-years-old is trolled, called ‘bikas birodhi’ (anti-development) and ‘dollar badi’. But she does not let this deter her, although there is a nagging worry that it may negatively affect people’s willingness to contribute to the cause.

Says KC: "Young people are powerful. We are fearless, energetic and creative. Collectively our movement of self-motivated youth can make a difference.”

Shristi Karki

writer

Shristi Karki is a correspondent with Nepali Times. She joined Nepali Times as an intern in 2020, becoming a part of the newsroom full-time after graduating from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Karki has reported on politics, current affairs, art and culture.

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