The Global Citizen Prize is an annual award that recognizes and celebrates the unsung activists who are positively impacting their communities and going above and beyond to tick things off the world’s most important to-do list: the United Nations’ Global Goals.
One of 2023’s remarkable winners — the winner of this year's Citizen Award, Rwanda — is Ineza Umuhoza Grace, a 27-year-old eco-feminist and impact-driven actor in the climate change and environment sector. Based in Rwanda, she is also a researcher in the field of climate change with a focus on climate justice and policies.
Grace believes in the power of sharing community voices and concerts to achieve climate justice through female, youth, and community-driven action. She is the co-founder and global coordinator of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition — a coalition of over 600 youth from more than 60 countries, advocating and taking concrete action to address loss and damage.
Grace is also the founder and CEO of The Green Protector, an NGO working to increase youth participation in protecting the environment through climate action that has reached more than 3,000 children and young people, implementing activities and engaging youth in climate policy negotiation on an international level.
Grace’s activism work in climate justice comes from having personally experienced the devastating impacts of climate change.
When growing up, she and her family experienced their house being destroyed due to intensive rainfall in her hometown within the northern Musanze district in Rwanda. This led to her family and others being forced to move to a new region.
Despite Rwanda contributing just 0.01% to global greenhouse gas emissions, the country experiences some of the worst effects of the climate crisis including hotter temperatures and changing rainfall, and droughts.
This has led to intense floods and, most recently, landslides that hit the northern and western region of the country on May 4, 2023, leaving around 130 people dead. Thousands of people within the northern and western region of the country were displaced as entire villages were destroyed.
Rwanda’s weather authority is linking the unusual rains seen in recent years to climate change. According to a BBC report, this has been the worst flooding Rwanda has seen since May 2020 when around 80 people died.
Grace was awarded the Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award, Rwanda, at the Global Citizen Prize ceremony hosted as part of the 2023 Global Citizen NOW summit — a two-day event that took place in New York City that convened government leaders, private sector executives, grassroots activists, cultural innovators, philanthropic experts, and leading journalists to set a global agenda for action on the most urgent issues facing humanity and the planet.
Handed her award by fellow climate justice legend, Elizabeth Wathuti, Grace used the stage to break down what loss and damage is in simple terms: “Imagine someone struggling to stay afloat, drowning in deep water. Would you find a way to help them immediately, or would you stand there, watching her or him drowning and promising to have a rescue team come over, without knowing whether it’s going to come or when it’s going to arrive?”
“Developing countries are drowning right now," she continued, “and they have been pushed into deep water by developed ones, who also have the power to pull them out of the trouble.”
For Grace the urgency of climate action is not a political issue but a humanitarian one.
Addressing the audience, she finished by saying: “Acting to address the climate crisis should not be treated as a political issue. It is a matter of us all standing together in global solidarity and responding to and respecting the statement: ‘Leave no one behind.’”