Twins for Climate
by Raeesah Chandlay
In 2018, twin sisters Nour and Nada Hazem were about to embark on their studies at Alexandria University. While scrolling through her Instagram feed, Nour came across a perturbed Antonio Guterres. The Secretary-General of the United Nations warned of a Climate Emergency while standing in the middle of the ocean.
At the time, she did not know much about the climate crisis, but the image stayed with her, sparking a desire for knowledge and change. From that moment, Nour endeavoured to learn as much as she could about the crisis. She remembers being taught about climate change at school. But it was always discussed in a theoretical sense, and never emphasised as a serious and current threat, which made it difficult to connect with reality.
Through her quest for climate knowledge, Nour attended events and trainings, which opened up a world of information. She delved wholeheartedly into her environmental endeavours, became a vegetarian, and commenced her journey in climate activism.
As she progressed, Nour found her first comrade in her twin sister Nada. Upon commencing their studies in Political Science, the sisters noticed that sustainability was a natural cornerstone in the curriculum, and they soon realised that it would become a central element in their lives and work.
A Sinking City and a Rising Crisis
Nour and Nada live in Alexandria, a Mediterranean port city in Egypt, at great risk due to rising sea levels and poor infrastructure. In fact, Alexandria ranks 11th on the list of cities susceptible to sinking. The city is also experiencing extreme climatic events, which have intensified over the past few years, with summer temperature spikes, winter rain bombs, and rare snowfalls. Already, there are many victims of the volatile weather, especially the homeless and the fishing communities residing along the city’s fragile coastline.
Egyptians are also experiencing food and water insecurity. Floods and vector-borne plant diseases are causing damage to crops, while the Nile Delta is undergoing severe erosion. Adding to the challenge of building climate resistance is that often the country’s most vulnerable do not understand the anthropogenic causes behind what they are experiencing, instead ascribing the climatic changes to God’s anger on humanity.
“It is challenging in a religious society where everything gets attributed to God’s will. People have to realise that we are reaping what we sow.”
Climate Advocacy in Egypt
In Egypt, environmental issues are generally seen as secondary. It is very difficult for many to prioritise or to understand the interconnection between climate change and other critical issues such as poverty, education, and gender equality.
And on the flip side, Nour highlights the issue of consumerism among the middle class and the wealthy. There is a general lack of foresight for the future. The climate emergency is still seen as a futuristic phenomenon as people continue to live in the pleasures of the moment. Unsustainable lifestyle habits have become deeply embedded in Egyptian culture, and have been the norm for so long that it is difficult to fast-track the transition to a sustainable future.
One of the main challenges in Egypt is the lack of climate literacy. Even when the government pursues the right policies, the rationale behind them is not always adequately communicated, which creates resistance among the people. More transparency is needed around government decisions and purpose behind policy.
Nada has found that representation is also an issue. Often, those appointed to speak on the climate crisis are not representative of affected communities, and the lack of understanding of these lived experiences impacts the movement.
A Passion Born from Climate Anxiety
Nada admits that her climate passion started with fear and anxiety. But seeing climate activists like Greta Thunberg holding world leaders accountable made her realise her social responsibility to take action.
“In many African countries and other developing nations, people see climate change as a government responsibility, but without the political will to act, little is done to make a change.”
Above all, she believes that the greatest issue is a lack of awareness. For this reason, she has resolved to educate herself and share her knowledge with others.
And as one of the youngest in the room at a COP27 roundtable talk in January, she realised her influence on other young people, seeing that youth are hungry for information. And the more they learn, the more questions are raised, and more opportunities arise for raising awareness.
Joining the Climate Reality Leader Network
Nour and Nada are both active members of the Global Shapers Community, through which they were introduced to the Climate Reality Leadership Corps. They trained as Climate Reality Leaders in 2021.
The training furthered their climate education and offered them a sense of formality and credibility in the climate activism space. It has also helped generate momentum and given them the confidence to take the lead on climate.
They have found the network to be among the most valuable aspects of the Climate Reality Project, especially in countries like Egypt, where the climate action road is a particularly challenging one.
Taking the Lead on Climate
Nour and Nada are set to be the curator and vice curator, respectively, of the Global Shapers Alexandria hub. One of their key focuses will be information accessibility for the Egyptian people. In Egypt and other North African countries, there is a lack of access to environmental education resources in Arabic, which poses a significant barrier, especially among poorer communities.
The twins recently participated in the 27 Walks and Talksinitiative, which was hosted in Egypt this year and was aimed at raising awareness among disadvantaged communities and schools. They travelled to eight public schools as Banlastic Egypt facilitators, educating learners about climate change, COP27, and plastic waste.
Plans are underway for a project in the Mena region that will entail a social media campaign and climate education in schools.
Bringing the Climate Conversation to Affected Communities
Nour believes it is also crucial to engage with affected communities and emphasises the importance of understanding their environmental background so as not to impose information in a way that is unrelatable.
Since she was exposed to the issue of climate justice, Nour has witnessed the ramifications when decision-making processes don’t include those that are most affected.
“We try to understand the language of each community and to come to their table and not to bring them to ours or to the decision-makers. We need to seek solutions from the people that are most suffering and not the solutions that we think are best for them.”
A Network of Cheerleaders
Before joining the Climate Reality Project, Nour faced a lot of negativity and pushback. But speaking with other Climate Reality Leaders, she found her own network of cheerleaders that kept her motivated.
The project also provided a platform to engage with Climate Reality Leaders across the continent. Being able to connect with people from the broader African community who share the same mindset and collaborate on activities has enhanced the twin’s activism and endeavours.
Their advice to other Climate Reality Leaders is to use the network to empower themselves and connect with people around the continent since the climate crisis transcends national borders.
“Often, you get so focused on issues that are intrinsic to your country that you forget that the issue is global, and you try to impose something that is way bigger than your community and country.”
Nour and Nada are hopeful for COP27. They feel that hosting the conference on African soil is going to make a huge difference and allow for more inclusivity and representation. This year, they hope to see more finance allocated to research, especially in Africa.
So far, the Egyptian government has taken multiple steps ahead of the conference, including various legislations on food waste, single-use plastic, and climate education. These are all positives, but there are already fears around follow-through.
Echoing the sentiments of many within the climate movement, the sisters believe that lack of accountability is one of the key issues, adding that there should be no shaming, blaming, and pointing fingers at the Global South.
“Countries of the Global South must join forces as we are all in the same boat. We all have the same goal, which is to save our continent[s].”
African Voices for Africa’s Future