Taking the Lead in Fight Against Climate Change

Monique Taffe, a 22-year-old London-based fashion designer, makes clothing from recycled textiles and objects. (Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS)

By A.
D. McKenzie

PARIS, France, Friday February
22, 2019 (IPS) 
– As the
grandchild of Jamaican citizens who moved to Great Britain, Monique Taffe says
she inherited a tradition of recycling and learned not to be part of the
“throwaway culture”, as some environmentalists have labelled consumerist
societies.

“I saw how my grandmother re-used things, and that was passed down
to my mother who inspired me to do the same,” said Taffe, who wants to use
waste materials and recycled fabrics in fashion design.

The 22-year-old
London-based designer is a recent graduate of a British fashion school and she
participated the 3rd
Women4Climate conference
 that took place February 21 in Paris.
She joined other young women from around the world, including from several
Latin American countries, who have launched sustainability projects and are
being mentored by member cities of C40, a network of 94 “megacities” committed
to addressing climate change – and which co-organised the conference titled
“Take the Lead”.

Taffe has started a project to design maternity sportswear,
encouraging expectant mothers to exercise during their pregnancy. All the
clothing is being made from recycled textiles and objects at her Taffe Jones
startup company, she told IPS.

She is also one
of 10 finalists from some 450 contestants for London’s Mayors Entrepreneur
Programme 2018, in which the city linked to the Women4Climate Mentoring
Programme. The aim is to develop innovative businesses that are meant to tackle
climate change.

“Women leaders
played a pivotal role in negotiating the Paris Agreement on climate change in
2015 and will be crucial to its success in the future,” says Women4Climate,
which was launched in 2016. “Now more than ever, enhancing women’s
participation and leadership will be critical to securing a healthy, prosperous
and sustainable future for us all.”

Taffe said in an
interview that she would like to see young people in Britain, the Caribbean and
around the world getting together via social media to share best practices for
textile recycling. This could include information about leaving used clothing
in central depots or designated places, where designers and others could
retrieve material. Recycling in the fashion industry could have a positive
environmental impact, as the sector is one of the most polluting, according to
experts.

The United Nations Environment Programme says
that the fashion industry “produces 20 percent of global wastewater and 10
percent of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and
maritime shipping.” The agency adds that “textile dyeing is the second largest
polluter of water globally and it takes around 2,000 gallons of water to make a
typical pair of jeans”.

At the U.N.
Environment Assembly next month, the agency will “formally launch the U.N.
Alliance on Sustainable Fashion to encourage the private sector, governments
and non-governmental organisations to create an industry-wide push for action
to reduce fashion’s negative social, economic and environmental impact,” the UN
says.

With clothing
factories across Latin America and the Caribbean, this is an area that
environmentalists are addressing as well, with organisations saying that the
main focus is on waste management, including textiles and plastics that pollute
the region’s beaches.

The Jamaica
Environmental Trust, an NGO based in Kingston, emphasises recycling, conducts
beach clean-ups with volunteers, and works to protect air and water quality, a
spokesperson told IPS. Its leadership team consists mostly of young women, like
Taffe, who work to sensitise the public to environmental and climate issues.

“Raising
awareness will help other young people to see what’s being done and make it
easier for us to form alliances for climate action,” Taffe said.

She and other
observers have noted the measures taken in the Caribbean to ban single-use
plastic bags and straws and to expand the use of solar power. The Jamaican
government, for instance, announced last year that it wants the country to
reach 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, up from the previous policy of 30
per cent.

Although no
Caribbean city is a member of C40, attending international conferences such as
Women4Climate was one way of bringing ecological entrepreneurs together to
share experiences, participants said.

In fact, forming
international links was a central theme of the event, hosted by Paris mayor
Anne Hidalgo (the initiator of the Women4Climate idea) and held in the French
capital’s imposing city hall – flanked by the blue and green bicycles of the
city’s bike-sharing scheme.

Representing
cities such as Quito (Ecuador), Mexico City, and Santiago (Chile), Taffe and
other women from around the world shared projects on sustainability and
carbon-emissions reduction. They described ventures to improve species
conservation in towns, understand and stop urban sprawl, transform restaurant
waste into biogas and increase textile recycling.

Young innovators
also presented technology solutions in a Women4Climate Tech Challenge.

“Climate change
often has impact first on the lives of women … who traditionally are the ones
taking care of the family, so women’s skills should be acknowledged,” said
Hidalgo at the conference. “This is not to say women are better than men but
that women have different skills and competences that are crucial in the fight
against climate change.”

Hidalgo said
policy makers and activists had to “think locally to act globally”.

Participants in
the conference included women mayors from several cities – Freetown, Sierra
Leone; Charlotte, North Carolina; Dakar, Senegal; and Sydney, Australia –
alongside several male mayors working to address climate change.

“We cannot fight
against climate change effectively without empowering women,” said Rodacio
Rodas, the mayor of Quito. He described food-security and urban garden projects
that employ women and added that at the “community” level, women could be
empowered and could empower themselves to take action.

Many delegates,
however, highlighted the lack of national support for climate action by some
male leaders, with Clover Moore, the Lord Mayor of Sydney, deploring the global
effects of climate-sceptic governments.

“We’re as
devastated across the world by Trump as you are in the U.S.,” Moore said,
referring to the US president’s lack of support for the Paris Agreement on
climate change, but she added that the prime minister of Australia was not
“much better”.

“It’s very
depressing times, but we don’t despair … we fully support our young community
coming out and telling our national government to act responsibility. Full
strength to our young communities.”

In a movement
known as “Youth Strike 4 Climate”, led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg,
students in several countries have been staying out of school on certain days
to protest inaction by their governments against global warming. “Young people
see what’s happening, they know the science,” Moore said.

Student
participants at the Women4Climate conference included 17-year-old Youna
Marette, a Belgian high school activist who was one of the keynote speakers.

“We’ll continue
to fight, strike … for our future,” Marette declared, urging governments to
create more inclusive societies and to increase action to protect the planet.

For Taffe, the up-and-coming designer, thinking of the future and a liveable world is a strong motivation. “My grandmother passed down ways to live sustainably, and I want to carry that on,” she told IPS. “We have to re-use and recycle and do what we can wherever we live.”

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