Fatima Ibrahim knows exactly how to solve a problem like the climate crisis.
You might have heard of it: it’s called the Green New Deal — a global environmental movement with a UK arm that Ibrahim co-founded last year. It’s an initiative that tackles the climate crisis with the scale and urgency it demands through a detailed plan that puts workers first.
The idea was first proposed in 2007, reminiscent of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s social welfare programme following the Great Depression. However, it failed to take off — “because there was no movement behind it,” Ibrahim says, having spoken to those who fought for it at the time. There just weren't the boots on the ground. But, since then, the landscape has dramatically shifted.
The Green New Deal can mean different things in different countries. But, broadly, it’s about a radical transformation of society that targets inequality through green jobs. That involves decarbonisation, a focus on social justice, and prioritising environmental protections.
In the US, it has been popularised by US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The UK movement is being led by Ibrahim — who has been named as the winner of the 2020 Global Citizen Prize: UK’s Hero Award, presented by Vodafone — and her friend Hannah Martin, who has previously led on climate and energy policy at Greenpeace UK.
The Global Citizen Prize: Country Hero Award honours local legends who have spent this year standing up for their communities, championing the world’s most vulnerable people, and fighting for progress on the UN’s Global Goals — a set of 17 objectives that offers a roadmap to ending extreme poverty by 2030.
So long as activists like Fatima Ibrahim are working on the climate crisis, we've got hope 🌍 💫 ✊— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) December 19, 2020
The 27-year-old co-founder of @GreenNewDealUK and #GCPrize: UK's Hero award winner is the first in conversation for our new series, #IMSPEAKING: Leaders of Tomorrow 💪 @fortuashlapic.twitter.com/0xfLLisYkv
And in Britain, it’s particularly vital to recognise the role the climate crisis has in poverty reduction as the biggest climate summit since the Paris Agreement, COP26, is due to take place in Glasgow in 2021. The UK government has claimed it wants to lead the world on cutting emissions. But in reality, it won’t happen unless radical initiatives like the Green New Deal take centre stage.
But climate campaigning is more than just Ibrahim's day job. It’s her life’s work.
“I was quite literally born into a climate emergency,” Ibrahim tells Global Citizen. “Back in 1993, governments recognised that something was going wrong, that the way that we were living was not compatible with the long term future. And they were trying to do something about it — not so seriously — but they were trying.”
“The moment I realised I couldn’t be working on anything else was when I was 18,” she continues. “I got involved with youth climate campaigners around the world, and in exchanging stories about their lives, and actually recognising that there’s a bunch of young people the same age as me who don’t know where they’re going to be living in 30 years because of climate change — they’re quite literally fighting for their lives — I realised that there’s nothing else I can be working on if the future is really at stake for my generation and for generations to come.”
She’s only 27, but has already spent a decade in climate activism. A daughter to Somali refugee parents, Ibrahim was born in Canada before moving to London as a child. When she was a teenager, she was already organising youth climate conferences for the United Nations.
Then, at the University of Hull, she studied environmental law: a “really great way to skill yourself up with the tools that you need to hold people accountable and to go after power”, she says. It wasn’t about representing individuals or organisations — it was about standing up for movements.
Ibrahim then went on to campaign with the Avaaz movement, advocating for long term goals to be enshrined in the Paris Agreement. She helped organise the People’s March For Climate in 2014, and frequently worked through the UK Youth Climate Coalition.
Only 6% of UK public 'want a return to pre-pandemic economy' @RishiSunak - Jobs Jobs Jobs is a great slogan, but they need to be GOOD jobs, they need to be GREEN jobs, and the level of investment needs to be much GREATER than single-digit billions.@RishiSunak— Fatima-Zahra Ibrahim (@fortuashla) July 8, 2020
But it wasn’t a fight she actively sought out. It was a calling she found impossible to ignore.
“Being a young, Black, Muslim woman in the early 2000s was a pretty rough ride,” Ibrahim says. ”If you weren’t doing politics, politics was definitely doing you. So I had no choice in being politicised, and being engaged in marches. I was acutely aware of how leaders and adults were failing us.”
“I always felt there was room for us in leadership positions and that we couldn’t wait for it to be given to us, we had to take those spaces,” she adds. “You don’t have to wait your turn, your turn is now.”
Ibrahim highlights that the Black Lives Matter movement needs to be right at the centre of the fight for the Green New Deal. It’s the exact same fight, she says — “racial justice, economic justice, social justice, [and] climate justice are all super linked” — and starts with embracing inclusivity and diversity from the grassroots.
Diverse leadership within the climate movement is especially important. Take Extinction Rebellion, for example: a decentralised direct action group that is often criticised as being very white, and very middle class.
Extinction Rebellion protests typically see mass arrests — a component that doesn’t lend itself particularly well to ethnic minorities who are statistically more likely to experience police brutality or disproportionately longer sentences for certain crimes.
It’s something Ibrahim has thought about a lot.
“The [movement] needs to start talking about climate change as a systemic issue. It’s a product of a system that’s not working — and that system is affecting people in many other ways, through racial injustice, through housing crises, inequality, poverty, all these things that come back to an economic system that’s not serving people or planet,” she says. “That’s how you tell a broader story that people feel like they can connect with.”
“What does connect to people’s everyday lives is: oh, you’re getting poorer, companies are getting richer, and they’re making the air toxic for you to breath, and they’re polluting your water system,” she continues. “Suddenly, you’ve placed people in the story, and they know how all these things are connected. This is a system of injustice.”
There are so many 'shovel-ready' projects, for example in retrofitting, that could create thousands of jobs up and down the country while saving councils cash on energy bills and eradicating fuel poverty.@fortuashla of @GreenNewDealUK on a climate-friendly recovery out of Covid pic.twitter.com/pMOvNNXxAz— NEON (@NEON_UK) June 26, 2020
She argues that people must understand that climate has already been racialised, intrinsically bound up as it is in ideas around inequity: “The pandemic has almost given us a small window into figuring that out. The way it’s affected us hasn’t been equal.”
However, despite a year of immense collective human loss and suffering, Ibrahim feels that a renewed sense of resilience and solidarity has grown in communities around the UK. She takes hope from that, and feels that it’s fertile ground for movement building.
“I do believe we’ve come out of it stronger,” she says. “I have fallen in love with my community over the last year, just how they’ve had each other’s backs, how I’ve come to know my neighbours, how I know that if anything were ever to happen to me or my household, that my neighbours would be there to support us, to make sure we got our groceries or our prescriptions — and that’s something beautiful.”
Ibrahim was named the winner of the 2020 Global Citizen Prize: UK’s Hero Award precisely because of this attitude — that the community, the movement, must always come first. She will be presented with her award — including $10,000 to support her projects — among other Country Hero Award winners from Canada, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Germany, and Australia during the Global Citizen Prize award ceremony.
Alongside the Country Hero Award winners, Global Citizen Prize will also recognise and honor leaders and activists across government, business, entertainment and the arts, activism, and more, as well as among Global Citizens and young people.
In a year of darkness, these activists ushered in the light.— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) December 20, 2020
Congrats to all the @VodafoneUK#GCPrize: Country Hero winners from London, Berlin, Johannesburg, Melbourne and more — like @fortuashla, co-founder of @GreenNewDealUK! 🌍
Watch the show here: https://t.co/lffrMzciTipic.twitter.com/PMnJrPu6lM
The show — also featuring performances from Alessia Cara, Carrie Underwood, Common, Gwen Stefani, John Legend, JoJo, and Tori Kelly, and appearances from John Oliver, Nick Jonas, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas — will premiere around the world from Dec. 19. You can find all tune in details here, for both broadcast and digital streams.
In the UK, the ceremony will then be broadcast on Sky One at 7 p.m. on Dec. 21.
“I love the idea behind the Global Citizen [Prize],” Ibrahim says. “It’s a really important way of recognising not just the individuals, but the movements that are working toward the Sustainable Development Goals, who are looking to close the inequality gap, meet our climate targets, and overcome poverty.”
She adds: “For me, it’s always exciting to see the other activist and movement leaders out there who are doing great work.”
Join Global Citizen on December 19, 2020, to celebrate the leaders among us who have stepped up against a backdrop of unprecedented global challenges to take action for the world we want — a world that is fair, just, and equal.
The broadcast and digitally streamed award ceremony will also feature inspirational stories of human strength and unforgettable performances that will bring together artists, activists, and global leaders to remind each of us that, together, we will come out of this year stronger. Find out more about the Global Citizen Prize here.