The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series ‘Changemakers for the future’, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. This time: Ana Toni, head of the Institute for Climate and Society in Brazil
When I was seventeen, I first left Brazil to be an exchange student in Sweden. Over there, I had to explain Brazil to many people. Inside your own country, you cannot see what’s good and what’s bad. But from Sweden, I could look at our history and see what terrible things happened to the indigenous people, the immigrants from Africa and the Amazon. When I returned to Brazil, the path to take was clear. Eventually, after completing my Master’s at the London School of Economics, I got a job at ActionAid, a federation working to end poverty in developing countries.
In 1992, the Earth Summit was in Rio, and ActionAid asked me to analyse the Climate Change Convention’s impact on poverty. Meanwhile, my colleague Vicky was supposed to examine its impact on environment. At that time, poverty and environment were considered separate issues. In Brazil, the environment was a matter for the rich to deal with since poverty was something they’d escaped. Poverty issues were tackled for the sake of helping others rather than to benefit everyone. But from day one, Vicky—a woman from the North—and I—a woman from the South—realised we were facing the same direction, working on the same issue. From then on, my work became, simply put, North-South environment-development bridging.
Faith in Climate
At the Institute for Climate and Society, our Faith in Climate programme unites groups from different faiths to get together and talk about climate from a religious point of view. We explore how Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Jews, Afro-Brazilians and others each explain climate change and talk within their own faith about it. It’s a small but very important programme because it addresses people outside their bubbles. I can see that it’s making a difference, especially with young groups and how they discuss climate. These people were born at a time with climate already a major topic, but sometimes their faith contradicts some climate issues.
We also encourage Afro-Brazilians to join. The majority of Brazil is of Afro descent, but the climate community is very white. Afro-Brazilians are likelier to live in poverty and have fewer chances to go to college, which has always created divisions between them and the white climate community. We’ve been advocating for our partners to hire Afro-Brazilians, and do so ourselves. We are trying to learn from them and see in how far they want to join us. They from the majority of Brazilians, and no change will happen without their participation and leadership.
The hardest point in my career and my life is right now. The values of the Bolsonaro government oppose everything I believe in. In 2015, the Brazilian government was a positive one that put forward good nationally determined contributions (NDC). In the midst of huge political turmoil, ActionAid and our partners were key in getting the NDCs ratified fast. This was crucial because otherwise it could have been easy for Brazil not to fulfil its commitments in the climate negotiations. But now we are just focused on diminishing the damage that’s been done.
I know we’ll turn the corner. We just need a bit more stamina, but these last two years have been the hardest. We have felt as though all our work is coming undone. I believe in science-based data, in truth and facts, but right now the world doesn’t seem to value them much. And it’s too many people being killed, dying and suffering in between. Yesterday we heard ten little indigenous kids died of COVID-19, and another environmental activist was killed. These are the hardest moments.
Dreams for the future
My biggest dream is to make sure that we link all the wonderful things happening at the local level with what’s happening at the global level. At the same time, I hope we put as much effort into the wellbeing of our own neighbourhoods as that of the planet. Perhaps we are living in this time of huge polarisations because we pay less attention within our homes or talking to neighbours to see how they feel.
If I could say something at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, I would tell world leaders: “We are here, we’ll support you, whatever. But do the right thing. Be courageous.” Perhaps they would negotiate in a different manner if they could see beyond their own careers, their own governments, their own societies. I wish they could be more than negotiators, putting themselves as people first. They would probably say I’m naïve, that I don’t know real politics and life is much more complicated. Yes, we can complicate it, but there is a very simple truth: a big threat is endangering humanity. There is no time to play around anymore.
Ana Toni is head of the Institute for Climate and Society (iCS) in Brazil. Prior to that, Ana Toni served as the first Executive Director of ActionAid Brazil, and was the Ford Foundation’s representative in Brazil in the 2000s. As of 2011, she is the Chair of the Board of Greenpeace International and serves on the board of the new Baobá Fund for Racial Equity.
Institute for Climate and Society is a philanthropic organisation promoting prosperity, justice and low carbon development in Brazil that bridges international and national funders and local partners. It is a re-granting foundation that works on several portfolios, like transport, energy and land.