December 28, 2017 / 1:00 AM / 25 days ago

From Fijian child to Kenyan 'evangelist': Five climate heroes of 2017

LONDON, Dec 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From U.S. President Donald Trump pulling his country out of the Paris climate change deal to devastating hurricanes, floods and droughts wreaking havoc around the world, 2017 has been a rocky year when it comes to climate change.

But action to address worsening climate threats has gathered pace globally, from business boardrooms to city mayors’ offices to kitchen dining tables, renewing hopes in the fight against climate change.

Below are five people who helped lead the way in 2017:

Timoci Naulusala, 12-year-old Fijian boy

Timoci Naulusala, whose village in Fiji was devastated by Cyclone Winston in 2016, made an impassioned plea for climate action at the U.N. climate change talks in Bonn in November.

“My home, my school, food, water, money were totally destroyed,” he told negotiators at the annual climate conference. “My life was in chaos.”

The Pacific Island nation is seen as particularly vulnerable to climate change, with some of its 300 low-lying islands susceptible to rising seas.

Young people in Fiji - and around the world - have the most to lose if aggressive action isn’t taken to solve the problem, and they are increasingly speaking up to protect their rights to a future like the one their parents enjoyed.

“Climate change is here to stay unless you do something about it,” Naulusala urged in his speech.

Ruth Khasaya Oniang‘o, Kenya’s vegetable evangelist

Ruth Khasaya Oniang‘o, a professor of nutrition, was the joint winner of the 2017 African Food Prize, in recognition of her efforts to promote African indigenous vegetables and other crops to curb malnutrition and hunger and make farmers more resilient to climate change.

In Kenya, traditional African vegetables have often been overlooked, not least because seed for them can now be hard to find.

But leafy vegetables such as jute mallow and African black nightshade are nutrient rich, with some even having medicinal values, according to Oniang‘o.

She is also promoting the use of drought-resistant crops such as maize to tackle erratic rainfall, “strange plant diseases and dangerous pests” that are appearing as climate change strengthens.

Saúl Lliuya, Peruvian farmer

Saúl Lliuya, of Peru’s mountainous Ancash region, is suing German energy utility RWE, half a world away, for endangering his community, in a test case legal experts will watch closely.

Lliuya is arguing that greenhouse gas emissions from RWE’s plants are partly to blame for melting an Andean glacier. Runoff, gathered in a lake above his village, threatens to cause flooding and damage his house, he says.

His claim seeks about $20,000 which would go toward a $4-million local government scheme to prevent flooding from the lake.

While the money is largely symbolic, the precedent - that climate polluting utilities can be held liable for damage caused - is the real prize for Lliuya and others threatened by climate disasters.

RWE says Lliuya’s complaint is unfounded, and that a single emitter cannot be held responsible for global warming. But a German court has agreed to hear evidence in the case.

The people of Ralegan Siddhi village, India

Despite having the region’s lowest average annual rainfall, the tiny Indian village of Ralegan Siddhi has remained water sufficient for four decades, even through the severe droughts of 2014 and 2015 that helped trigger nearly 7,000 farmer suicides in Maharashtra.

Residents of the western Indian village have managed to hold onto rainwater - rather than let it flow away - by erecting barriers on the village’s slopes and channelling water to a giant well, following a model pioneered by social activist Anna Hazare in the 1970s.

Careful water rationing ensures there is enough for all, with water supplied through taps in all households once every two days, then stored in big, bright-blue cans.

So far, 86 neighbouring villages have implemented various versions of Hazare’s model, which he says has improved farmers’ yields.

“People now live in good houses, own vehicles,” he said.

Jerry Brown, Governor of California

From pledging funding to cut greenhouse gas emissions to encouraging citizens to switch to electric vehicles, California Governor Jerry Brown helped lead U.S. efforts to tackle climate change, defying Trump’s decision to quit the Paris accord.

In July, he and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched “America’s Pledge”, an initiative that aims to unite close to 230 U.S. cities and counties, nine states and more than 1,500 businesses, including Fortune 500 companies, to meet U.S. climate pledges - even without the federal government’s support.

“Today we’re sending a clear message to the world that America’s states, cities and businesses are moving forward with our country’s commitments under the Paris Agreement - with or without Washington,” Brown said at the launch of the initiative.

At the U.N. climate negotiations in November, he urged city leaders to move toward everything from more efficient building standards to planning more compact cities in an effort to hold the line on climate change.

"When cities, states and corporations join forces, that's when we get stuff done," he told the summit. (Reporting by Zoe Tabary @zoetabary, Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)

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