Recognizing and addressing environmental racism
Maria Gabriella Rodrigues de Souza is a law student from Brazil who will be part of her country’s negotiating delegation to COP28 with support from the GEF and the Climate Reality Project. In an interview, she explained how her interests in law, social justice, and environmentalism have aligned and shared a message for today’s political and business leaders.
What is your area of focus?
I am a law student at the Federal University of Tocantins. I have dedicated myself to research because I believe it will help me have the most effective social impact. In addition to my coursework, I am a member of the Racial Ethnic Equality and Education Research and Extension Group, where we discuss how the concept of race relates to the law and other themes. I have also participated in programs and projects focused on gender equality, public service, and youth leadership, and have been working at the Global Law Institute, an organization that focuses on researching the just energy transition in Brazil. I have a strong interest in research and academia, as I believe that education plays a significant role in transforming our world.
When did you become interested in environmental issues?
I became interested in environmental issues through my racial studies. I had been working on research for a few years, and environmental issues began to emerge within our group, raising questions about how various people experienced the consequences of environmental degradation differently.
This is when I came into contact with the term "environmental racism," and everything I was experiencing started to make much more sense. I am a young Black woman from the outskirts of a city called Porto Nacional, in Tocantins. My state is naturally hot; however, due to climate change resulting from the degradation of the Cerrado and Amazon biomes, temperatures can reach unbearable levels of 43 degrees Celsius. Large landowners who engage in deforestation are causing the devastation of two vital Brazilian biomes, and a significant portion of the poor and racialized population bears the consequences of this. Recognizing and identifying this situation motivated me to engage in these discussions and fight against environmental racism and climate change.
What message do you have for today’s political and business leaders?
My message is that the time we have long feared is happening now! We are losing our planet! It is crucial that leaders worldwide understand the seriousness of this situation and take decisive action to combat the underlying causes of climate change.
Additionally, it is essential that these leaders recognize and address environmental racism, an issue intrinsically linked to the climate crisis. Environmental racism deepens inequalities because marginalized communities often disproportionately bear the negative impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.
Why is it important to you to be in the negotiating room at COP28?
Being closely involved in the negotiations that will directly affect me and my community is very important to me. The chance to be present and to advocate for the formulation of policies and strategies to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while remembering the most affected people and negotiating for a better future for all, is a true honor.
What issue will you be most focused on in Dubai?
I am interested in following the topics of climate change mitigation and adaptation, which are directly related to the issue of environmental racism. It is crucial to recognize that these impacts are not equally experienced, as limited access to essential resources and services hinders vulnerable communities' ability to adapt to climate change. I am also interested in participating in discussions related to a fair energy transition.
What are your hobbies and other interests?
I enjoy spending my time reading and I also play handball at the university. In addition to studying environmental issues, I also research ethnic-racial equality and gender-related topics.