The actions we take today matter. What I do matters.
Sometimes, I feel I am not doing enough or that even if I am doing as much as I can, that my actions are not making a meaningful impact. According to the United Nations, to prevent the global temperature from rising past 1.5 degrees C — as called for in the Paris Agreement — we need to reduce global emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
Honestly, hearing this is scary; it stresses me out, and makes me want to cry, but it also makes me value time even more. It motivates me to stay focused and use my skills to facilitate and enable action to combat this crisis as best as I can until 2030 and beyond by leaning on community. I remind myself that others share this convoluted mix of emotions too: fear, anger, hope, optimism, disappointment, joy. I am not alone. We are not alone in doing our part individually and as a collective to identify our role(s) in this uphill battle and take action.
I am an Indian immigrant to the US and grew up watching shows and news on BBC. While Globe Trekker started teaching me about the cultural and historical elements of different countries, BBC News informed me about the varying economic, social, and political situations across the world. This made me very aware of my privilege from an early age. In addition, I grew up with a very active YWCA in my community, which provided us essential programs such as aftercare, language classes, and community gatherings. They helped teach me the importance of giving back to and being there for one’s community.
Being born in the global south but raised in the global north has been an interesting journey because the Indian and American cultures and lived experiences are so different.
However, as a young Indian-American woman, I recognize all of the opportunities I have at my fingertips through a combination of hard work, luck, my upbringing, my community, and location. We do not choose who we are born to or where we are born, and those circumstances should not bind us to one way of life versus another. Nowadays, I use my privilege to increase fairness and justice within the climate space. I want young people everywhere to dream of their best lives with the confidence that they can achieve them. I want people everywhere to treat each other with respect, kindness, and dignity.
I did not always use my privilege in this way. Because of my upbringing, I thought I wanted to become a pediatrician for the longest time. However, in high school, as I was exposed to a greater range of classes and extracurriculars and learned more about the lifestyles of different career paths, I quickly started questioning my allegiance to pediatrics. I applied to half of my colleges as a neuroscience/ cognitive science major because I wanted to understand why we make the decisions we make and on the other half I applied as an international studies major to better understand the human operations and interconnectedness of the world. I ultimately graduated with degrees in Economics and International Studies, with a focus on justice, ethics, and human rights because these subjects helped me better understand why the world and its systems are the way they are.
I have been active in community service since I was 13 years old, initially in the education and community development sectors. However, after attending the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco during my final year of college, I knew that the climate space was where I needed to be. I have been interested in the United Nations since high school, so I joined the United Nations Association of USA and when I saw the opportunity to attend GCAS, I went for it. My love for the outdoors, previous classes like environmental economics and remote sensing, and interest in the United Nations prompted me to use my savings and go, and that decision has redirected my life.
To me, climate change is intellectually stimulating because of its identity as the grandest collective action problem of our time, and I want to help address the complexity from a justice angle.
I have been directly and more intentionally involved in the climate justice space since 2018. My work now focuses on increasing youth participation in decision-making, using storytelling to uplift young leaders and inspire action, strengthening emotional resilience of young leaders, designing funding mechanisms that center the needs of those most impacted, and more! The work I do now is inspired by challenges I have faced as a young woman of color finding my way in the climate space and the vision I have of a more coordinated and just movement.
Pooja Tilvawala is a climate justice leader who was born in India, but grew up in the US. She has degrees in Economics and International Studies and first worked at the Meridian Institute to advance ocean policy in Mexico, advance US federal climate policy, form alliances to act on plastic pollution, and much more.
Currently, she is the Youth Engagement Manager of The Climate Initiative, Founder and Director of Youth Climate Collaborative, a designer for Rivet, and on the finance team of the Climate Youth Negotiators Program. She is active in YOUNGO, the official children and youth constituency of the UNFCCC, and has a podcast + community launching soon.
Pooja is one of Climate Generation’s Window Into COP delegates for COP27. To learn more, we encourage you to meet the full delegation and subscribe to the Window Into COP digest. You can support our delegates at COP27 with a financial gift today!