Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and the implications for human mobility around the world are also profound. In 2021 alone, disasters led to 23.7 million internal displacements. From remittances to direct investment to skills transfer and philanthropy, diaspora plays a crucial role in addressing some of the most urgent crises worldwide. Having connections to and understanding of their countries of origin or heritage, young diaspora leaders can play a crucial role in supporting climate action.
Climate action cannot wait.
Gideon Commey, is an environmental activist from Ghana. Currently based in the UK, he is a doctoral researcher in food systems at the UK Food Systems Centre for Doctoral Training (UKFS-CDT). Gideon gained an undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Food Science from the University of Ghana before completing a Masters in Environment & Sustainable Development at the University College London (UCL).
His country of origin, Ghana, faces a litany of environmental challenges— from illegal mining locally known as galamsey, to water pollution to deforestation and climate change. Gideon believes that “movements can raise awareness of these challenges, amplify the voices of vulnerable and frontline communities and hold political leaders accountable”.
The UK is home to some of the largest diaspora communities worldwide and IOM is supporting young professionals and leaders to be part of some of the key global conversations around climate action.
While the world is coming together at COP27 in Egypt to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Gideon Commey will participate as a speaker in one of the side events organised by IOM in collaboration with the Global Centre for Climate Mobility, exploring some of the good practices in climate action.
What does climate action mean to you?
Most of my professional life has been spent working as an activist building and growing a grassroots environmental movement in Ghana. I founded Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM), a youth-led environment and climate advocacy and campaign group in the country. My work for more than a decade now, has been focused on empowering the young people of GYEM with the knowledge, leadership, functional skills and tools to respond to environmental challenges in communities, as well as the impacts of climate change on livelihoods.
My current research at the UKFS-CDT include food justice and food trade. Broadly speaking, I’m using food as a lens to understand society’s impact on biodiversity and the climate, especially through international food trade between UK and Africa. I’m also investigating how these impacts can be addressed through policy and agricultural practices which prioritise a sustainable environment while addressing inequalities in the access to healthy food.
Can you tell us a bit more about your involvement as a member of the Ghanaian diaspora, and why is this important to you?
Ghana and UK share a colonial history which was mostly exploitative and traumatic. Till date, Ghana is mostly viewed through that lens, but this also obscures the beauty in other parts of our history and richness of our culture. First and foremost, I am an ambassador shedding light on Ghana’s rich history and culture, and potential of our people in my interactions with people in the UK. Secondly, I have an opportunity to study in the UK with a scholarship due to the development relations between the two countries. This comes with access to friendships, networks and professional opportunities.
It allows me to build bridges between people and institutions here and back home in Ghana—for the exchange of ideas, expertise and experiences to confront challenges that are unique to all of us, such as a broken food system and global climate change.
The UK and Ghana hold relationships on multiple levels. How does this support climate action?
The environmental movement in Ghana is a key part of this engagement. GYEM has contributed ideas and perspectives to conversations and initiatives on climate justice led by some UK environment and international development charities. Conversely, we have received support including micro grants and fiscal sponsorship for the transfer of funds towards our movement’s work on climate change.
My food systems research is also another example of such active engagement; Ghana is an important trade partner to the UK. The import of crops such as cocoa and banana are key to the UK economy, while providing Ghana with foreign exchange for investment in its economy. It is important that UK’s trade in such commodities do not export emissions and biodiversity loss to the country of production, and that there is transparency about environmental impact in international trade. This safeguards the resilience of our collective food system by addressing environmental degradation which can be interlinked with other big issues like poverty, inequality, migration and the rest.
What role do you think diaspora youth can play in addressing global issues such as climate change?
Youth in the diaspora must be aware of the impacts of climate change in their home country and the diaspora and be able to connect the linkages. For example, we know developed economies like the UK contribute more greenhouse gas emissions, but people in Ghana and other global south countries are suffering more from the impacts of climate change.
The first step for diaspora youth will be to identify initiatives they can be part of, to learn and share their perspectives and experiences on climate change. Having knowledge of the issues is the first step to acting on it.
In terms of acting on climate change, I always recommend that people in the UK search for groups or initiatives in Ghana which inspire and align with their convictions and support them.
It is advisable to support what is already making an impact to amplify and scale it up rather than starting something new altogether.
There are young people and organizations doing amazing work in Ghana, from running creative campaigns to organising and implementing community-based projects which support livelihoods of vulnerable people and disadvantaged communities. Diaspora youth can support these with their knowledge, skills and expertise through capacity development programmes. They can also fundraise for grassroots activists and organisations in Ghana to support their work. I recommend the grassroots initiatives because they are underfunded but most of the real work is done there, and the grassroots is where less can be used to deliver real-life impact. That is why GYEM focuses more on the grassroots and push for bottom-up solutions rather than top-down interventions that do not address systemic challenges.