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The Climate Solution Hiding in Plain Sight

Updated: Jan 29

Virginia Terry, Director of Strategic Communications

While today’s climate crisis is destroying lives, homes, and livelihoods at an unprecedented rate, its impacts are shockingly disproportionate: in fact, 80% of people displaced by climate change are women and girls, and 200 million girls in the world’s lower income countries are at heightened risk. And yet, one of the most potent solutions to this crisis can be found in those very same girls—as the story of one of them vividly demonstrates. 

Growing up on her mother’s farm in Kenya, Mercy Wanjiku Kamonjo didn’t have access to climate change data. But she witnessed the changing weather patterns, the diminishing rains, and the reduced yields. Now as an environmental studies major at Kenyatta University, Mercy not only has a science-based understanding of the global risk of climate change, but the skills and knowledge to initiate local sustainable agriculture solutions among entire communities of farmers. In response to a worsening food and water crisis caused by three years of drought in Kenya’s northern arid region she founded the Kuza Generation Initiative two years ago. She now leads dozens of women-led farms in adopting stacked, multi-story farming techniques, and using reclaimed materials that help conserve water and increase yields by as much as 400%. 

Her work is paying off: by adopting these techniques, the farmers - predominantly mothers - are earning higher incomes, allowing them to provide their children with school essentials, including books, uniforms, and sanitary pads. This support increases the likelihood of their children completing their education. Mercy estimates she has trained over 100 farmers who, in turn, have gone on to share their farming techniques with hundreds of others, creating sustainable ripple effects that are mitigating climate shocks even as they help Kenyan communities prosper.  . 

The lesson is clear: Educating girls is the solution to climate change that is hiding in plain sight. A quality education equips girls like Mercy gain the knowledge and skills to protect themselves and their families during climate or extreme weather emergencies. Education not only gives them the tools to become leaders in their communities, business, and nations; it  also offers a pathway to vital green skills that can drive the transition to sustainable energy both faster and further—especially given a growing body of research highlighting that women leaders at all levels prioritize the environment more than men. 

And yet today, 129 million girls across the globe still lack access to education, while millions more receive only subpar schooling. As global trends of conflict, displacement, pandemics, and climate change put even more girls at risk of losing their education, it's time to embrace the reality  that investing in girls' education not only secures  a human right, but can play a vital role in addressing climate change.

That’s why Girl Rising launched Future Rising - to bring this solution into sharp focus by leading the charge for girls’ education, and by supporting young leaders from around the world. Today, Mercy is part of a global community of Future Rising Fellows that includes Leticia Tituana Picuasi from Ecuador, who founded Warmi STEM to combine cutting edge engineering solutions with traditional indigenous techniques to address water security; Hilda Flavia Nakabuye of Uganda, who as founder of the Fridays for Future movement is leading young people in the revitalization of Lake Victoria; and Lauren Ritchie of The Bahamas, who is creating new climate-informed education resources for Bahamian students. 

Our Future Rising Fellows are from all parts of the world, and the climate change solutions they lead are just as diverse, addressing specific local needs ranging from drought to flooding to sea-level change, to desertification and ocean acidification. But their approaches share one common theme: empowering girls. Mercy’s  Kuza Generation Initiative works with hundreds of girls in Kenya’s elementary and secondary schools, teaching them to plant and care for native trees that help to restore soil health, capture carbon, and conserve water. Letiticia is inspiring a new generation of Ecuadorian girls to pursue careers in STEM, and Hilda regularly visits Ugandan schools to encourage girls to take action for climate justice.At Girl Rising, we believe our job is to ensure their voices are heard and their solutions amplified. We support each Fellow in creating a story of their work in the form of their choosing - documentary, photo essay, graphic novel, or podcast, and then distribute it to a wide audience. We also work with Fellows to build an international network of peers, funders, academics, and policy makers that will allow their efforts to reverberate across borders. And we help ensure they are part of the world’s most important climate change policy convenings such as COP28 and the United Nations General Assembly. 

In fact, this month, Mercy, Hilda, and Lauren will be a part of Girl Rising events at the United Nations Water Conference and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, calling on leaders and decision-makers to prioritize girls' education. Their message: It's time for an emergency mobilization to get girls into school. We at Girl Rising agree. Educating girls is the key to helping them strengthen the skills and accrue knowledge they need to foster independence,  advocate for themselves and others, and build resilience within their communities. Investing in this process is not only investing in girls’ futures and that of their communities, but in  the next generation of environmental leaders who will play a crucial role in solving the climate crisis—and in securing a better future for us all.

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