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  • Writer's pictureArjen Naafs

Acting together on water and climate

Earlier version first published on the Toilet Talks website in 2021: Less blah, more dancing

Arjen Naafs is passionate about mapping and eager to share WASH knowledge and facilitate learning. This frank interview by Hajar Yagkoubi, former Netherlands youth representative to the United Nations. She talks to Arjen about moving beyond the greenwashing blah and stepping into a world where we not only act together, but move in coordinated synchrony.

Children and young people on a climate march holding a banner that says 'March for climate change'

Hajar: Arjen, you’ve been following the climate discussions for some time. Where are we now?

Arjen: The youth energy is showing one thing: they've really, really had it now. And responding to that energy should be what informs and sparks a change in the path. It's clear that if we just wait for the right people to have the decision-making power, it will be too late. I think that became more apparent than ever.

Hajar: I follow a lot of young people online. How is youth participation different and how will it influence the next COP?

Arjen: It's a global movement. The movement started already from the Fridays for Future and they're now happening in almost every country. This will only become ever more pronounced. But they’re not just about putting political pressure. I do think people are changing their ways. They're living the choices they make. And that is sometimes not even political. It’s about what people can do by themselves and about influencing the people around them, regardless of what a politician does between COPs.

Hajar: So, you're hopeful. What has excited you and what frustrates you about the global climate discussions?

Arjen: What makes me most happy is that water is featuring much more prominently in the adaptation agenda. But not enough has been done. And there's a lot of what is called greenwashing. There can also be a lack of inclusion. At COP, a lot of people don't have any influence. Journalists aren't allowed into sessions. There are a lot of closed meetings. It isn't an open and transparent process. Those things are disappointing and frankly, a disgrace.

Hajar: In your view, how could we unite the people who are fighting for water justice and the people who are fighting for climate justice?

Arjen: Both have a lot in common in terms of what they’re ‘fighting’, although I’m not sure that’s the best way of describing it, because it gives the impression that we’re opponents. Using those words is not always constructive. In my view, it is about coming and working together.

For me, climate is water. That's from the standpoint that when you talk about climate change, most of the things which are going to affect you will be changes in the water cycle: there's either going to be too much, or too little of it. It's going to be too dry, too many forest fires, freshwater melting from all the icebergs, rising sea level, salt intrusion. In urban areas drinking water will be much more difficult to get. 90% of disasters are water related. So, I don’t view them as two separate worlds. To me they are very much intertwined.

The one thing that we have seen during COP is the shift from the thinking about the ideal world, where we would have avoided climate change. Everybody is recognising that it's already happening and we have to, while also mitigate further damage as much as possible, find ways to live with climate change. We need to adapt to climate change and it’s about coordinating that adaptation. There is now the understanding that there is a common goal and target. If you're concerned about climate change, you are concerned about water. We're all wanting the same.

Hajar: It's with the solutions that things get interesting, but there is still a lot of blah. How do people working on climate and the people working on water move beyond the blah and work together?

Arjen: Basically, everybody will say they’re doing more than just talking, but I'd like to make another comparison. I would like to suggest we go from talking to dancing. We have to dance together. We all have different moves. We all already move to the same beat, in a way, we're all dancing to influence each other. So how about we all coordinate better. Find out how we can start moving to shake away the shared roadblocks that are in the way and move towards not just talking together, but actually moving and doing things together. Plus, dancing is a great source of energy and joy.

Hajar: When we talk climate change and water. What would you want to flush out of this world? What do you not want to hear at future COPs?

Arjen: Probably more broadly, I’d like to flush away all the greenwashing. You know, the “if I plant trees, I can continue polluting whatever I want”. I’ve got difficulties with that; the hypocrisy of it all. That you assume that you can pay off your guilt, while you know you have to change. I really would like to see that changed.

Hajar: If we would do another episode of Toilet Talks, who would you like to pass the roll onto? Who would you like to see us interview?

Arjen: I want ‘normal people’ to get a platform to share their urban African circumstances or their rural African circumstances. How are their lives affected by climate change? To what extent do they see things becoming more difficult? How is a farmer’s life affected? What are their lived consequences of climate change? These stories are very powerful, and we can all relate to them. There are also influential people that I would like to hear from, but they already have a prominent voice.

Hajar: A lot of policymakers are stuck in their ivory towers: They studied these issues, know about them in theory, but climate change has never really directly affected them and never will. How do we get the voices of the persons who are directly affected by climate change to be included?

Arjen: Here's my solution:

[Arjen shows a mirror]

What I mean is we need you. We need storytellers. We need people who can communicate. We need people who are able to formulate issues in a way that people are able to understand and able to relate to. If we want to get people out of their ivory towers, it doesn't necessarily help to attack them. It is about finding things that relate to them and find a link for them to see the bigger picture you've got.

Toilet Talks is brilliant because everybody goes to the toilet. Everybody goes and sometimes sits and thinks whenever they're there, so you've got something that's universal. And it's finding ways of telling messages that people can understand.

Hajar: That's a wonderful point. Indeed, the change starts with us. Any final words?

Arjen: Yes, one last thing. My message to everyone is to keep going and don't lose heart. Keep being constructive. Keep reaching out. We're into this together.

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