This Hat Talks: Climate Action with Aliza Ayaz

Interview by: Amna Shabir

Climate change is real and it is here. It affects us all, but it affects the youngest section of our society or the future generation the most. Rather than sitting back, young people have been the most vocal in the fight against climate change. According to research, student interest for climate change is at the highest level today. Youth-led movements around the world have campaigned effectively to garner the attention of world leaders for this cause. Whilst climate action is a collective effort, you can still make an impact individually.

 For the second edition of This Hat Talks – I interviewed Aliza Ayaz, a student climate change activist who has championed for climate change at the highest forums in this world. Aliza graduated from UCL last year, with a first class honors in BSc Population Health. She is the founder and chairperson of the UCL Climate Action Society which went on to become the only student society in the UK that strategically facilitates the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. She has won numerous awards and accolades for garnering loads of student interest in sustainability. She became the youngest House of Lords student spokesperson for Health and Environment in 2018 and has recently been appointed as the UN youth envoy for SDG’s. Aliza is a trailblazer in her field and an inspiration for young people, and we are certain she will go on to achieve much more!

Apart from organizing educational workshops in CAS, you also organized a successful fashion show at UCL to promote sustainable fashion. How can consumerism co-exist with climate action?

This reminds me of the Climate Action Society’s 2019 Symposium. Our Event Director Clara Buckens organised a very thoughtful panel discussion here. We thought that in a consumerist society, it is important to challenge traditional narratives to spark shifts in thinking. As it stands humans are consuming more than twice the resources the earth can sustain, so there is no question of our need to change our practices. The question begged therefore, is how? Every member of our audience is a consumer and thus should be aware of their power and consider how their choices accumulate to have real impact. It is questionable whether or not we can justify blaming consumers as individuals for the planet’s perils, but there is certainly a need to shift mind-sets. How can we encourage industries such as food, clothing and tech to facilitate this transition?

 With the current disconnect between the demand for climate action and implementation, and as an international ambassador for health and environment, I aim to discuss corporate responsibility, posing the question: should the C-suite or governments change?

What would you say, are currently, the most fundamental issues in the fight against climate change?

Unfortunately, developing countries contribute to a large share of pollution but climate action isn’t their top priority. Rather, it can’t be their top priority. We are asking very poor countries that are worried about where their next meal is coming from, or whether they can send their kids to school, to incur costs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to benefit the world. That’s a big, almost seemingly unrealistic, ask for a policymaker inside of a developing country.

Secondly, modern living is part of the problem. I struggle with this myself. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but modern conveniences like electricity, transportation, and air conditioning contribute to climate change, and remedies potentially involve significant sacrifice and lifestyle change. Although we have seen great strides in reductions in solar costs and batteries for electric vehicles, these are still expensive alternatives. There is no free lunch when it comes to overcoming climate change.

It often seems that environmental illiteracy is pervasive in world leadership, where some world leaders publicly denying human involvement in climate change. How hard is it to convince and what else needs to be done to convince the upper echelons of the government and corporate world to make a transition?

It’s super tough. I am not going to sugar coat it. A lot of the times, it’s felt like there is zero ambition, not ‘Net-Zero Ambition’.

We have been speaking to HSBC for example. The bank has given no firm timeline for reducing its financing of coal, oil and gas projects before 2050. At oil and gas companies, there is not even much willingness. Let’s look around us. How many of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies are on track to meet climate goals, despite public commitments to do so?

It’s funny because ambitions to cut emissions are expressed in almost every company press release and annual report — but some are a lot more real than others.

At the government level, there is gap between ambition and action varies by political party and by city. Unless these targets are supported by strategies that are reasonable, transparent and include strong accountability mechanisms, there is a significant risk that stakeholders, including civil society, will be misled. This is why I work with clients to think “how much, how soon, and how” for zero-carbon.

From CAS to the UN – you have embodied the idea of individual impact for climate action. What message would you give to young people who wish to create an impact or make their voice heard?

It’s not going to be easy, but keep going. I had to invest a lot of time alongside my studies to make change happen, and in the beginning the size of this change was barely noticeable.

What I think we all need to do is to protect ourselves, our companies, our communities from greenwashing. 

We need to look for transparency into how much is achievable today versus what requires different technologies. Hope is not a strategy here.

Is there anyone you look up to or is your role model, in the arena of climate action?

I am inspired by anyone. People of all ages, young or old. It’s a process. I pick up influences and I try to better myself. Overall, my role models are my parents, as well as my beloved, late grandfather (who was the only grandparent I ever met) and stories of my other grandparents. Their perseverance, strength and compassion is the force behind my climate action.

Follow Aliza on her social media channels to know more about her amazing work here:

Twitter: @AlizaAyaz_
Instagram: @alizaayaz_ @uclcas  LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alizaayaz/