Last month, Green Leaders Academy participant and climate activist Betty Osei Bonsu from Ghana attended the United Nations Climate Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. This interview highlights Betty's work.*
10 Billion Strong: We are excited to hear about your experience at COP26. Before starting, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, the type of work that you do, and where you are having an environmental impact?
Betty Osei Bonsu: I am an environmentalist who is very passionate about nature. Upon witnessing the rapid loss of forests to unsustainable energy demands, I led the authorship of the first paper in Ghana which focuses on renewable alternative energy using palm kernel shells. Through this, I joined the Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO) to champion sustainable energy transition for communities while reducing the rapid loss of forests. I serve as a project coordinator and am responsible for the implementation and replication of the GAYO Sustainable Community Project (SCP). This is the first circular economy project in Ghana and is providing jobs for more than 70 youth in rural communities, developing the capacity of informal waste pickers, while diverting waste from landfills. As a young female innovator, I also co-founded the Trees 4 Biodiversity initiative, where we have grown over 10,000 trees with community members to restore biodiversity. I have been recognized as a young environmental leader through my efforts in executing global leadership programs in climate change, including co-founding the GAYO Eco Club Campus Chapter with over 400 students. I also contributed to the recently launched Global Landscape Forum Biodiversity report and aspire to be a global leader in the climate movement.
10 Billion Strong: Can you please tell us why you went to COP26?
Betty Osei Bonsu: On the 11th of October, 2021, I was nominated by the Ghana Government to attend the UNFCCC Conference of Parties sessions of the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol to represent as a party delegate and discuss the issues of climate change. I attended not only in the capacity of a delegate of the Government of Ghana, but additionally with assigned responsibility from the Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO) and the Global Alliance Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) who supported me in the necessary capacity to be present at the event. The Green Africa Youth Organization as a member of the GAIA global movement has one of its goals of promoting zero waste within communities as well as championing reduction in plastic production. As the project coordinator championing zero waste within communities, it was in my capacity to represent and advocate in all communications the need to promote zero waste within communities especially taking into consideration the newly launched Zero Waste Strategy in partnership with local Assemblies in Ghana. Additionally, the need for the government to put in policies to assist the population to Break Free From Plastics. This, we all know is causing more harm than good including, increasing climate crisis and biodiversity loss. Following my presence at COP26 with all ongoing negotiations, I had five speaking side-events sessions where I represented in all capacities. My first session was the Changing Markets event on the topic “Fossil Fuels are the Backbone of Fast Fashion”. The panel shed light on the hard truth of Africa becoming a dumping ground for the global North from second-hand items. With the efforts of organizations embarking on zero waste solutions, increased production from corporate producers and disposal would only continue to feed the plastic/waste country. The final solution now would be a break free from fashion and single-use items.
This led to my second, third, and fourth sessions with the Global Alliance Incinerator Alternative and Break Free From Plastic on the topic of Corporate Green Washing and Solutions in Africa. In Africa, not only are we struggling with the brunt of climate change, we are directly impacted by the direct dumping of plastic waste in our community in different forms. With the focus on the plastic menace on our coastlines and other ecosystems, there have been changes in blame assigned from corporate producers to consumers as having improper disposal cultures, whereas the government shifts the blame to the corporate producers as an inability to monitor end of life products. The question remains, who should the public blame for the plastic menace? If there is no production, there would be no consumption. It’s now left to the corporate producers to turn off the tap. Recycling, net-zero, and incineration are greenwashing tactics that are only contributing zeros to corporate producers' bank accounts through increased production. The discussion was brought to an end with zero-waste solutions by GAYO and GAIA within communities, while advocating for a reduction in production and consumption.
The final session was with the Global LandScape Forum on the topic “Enhancing Social Inclusion in Bioeconomy Solutions”. Experiences were shared from the grounds works within communities I am currently undertaking while making highlights to gender inclusion involving our projects; Water 4 Adaptation, and the Sustainable Community Project. The highlight of the discussion was the written article “Hidden truth: Solutions for a Youth-driven Bioeconomy in Ghana”, where I shared my experiences on solutions for a youth-driven bioeconomy in Ghana. Excerpts from the article included bioeconomy strategies to reduce reliance on natural resources, transform manufacturing, and promote sustainable production of renewable resources. Although the bioeconomy solution is considered a model for industry and economic growth, our leaders have not given it their full attention, leaving a great deal of potential left untapped — untapped potential stored within millions of tons of biological waste and residual materials are disposed of daily into the environment. The link was drawn between bioeconomy solutions, communities as custodians and the need to prioritize youth and gender inclusion.
10 Billion Strong: Overall, what were your impressions of the conference? Do you feel like the conference was successful?
Betty Osei Bonsu: I think the majority of the important discussions actually take place at the side events of COP rather than in the negotiation rooms. This was the final conclusion I drew in my thoughts after the COP event ended. Although this was my first COP, I had guidance from experts and was well prepared to maximize the COP platform to promote our work. The conference was not an easy one, as there were packed agendas and several overwhelming discussions. If care is not taken one can be drawn in too many directions. Although the outcomes of COP have been judged by many as a failure, I would say it was successful to an extent as it can be agreed that it was the most inclusive COP in our history. Following GAYO’s assistance in setting up a Youth Climate Council in Ghana to provide a central platform to mobilize grassroots organizations and pose a unified climate front to amplify youth voices and create opportunities for young climate activists in Ghana, youth were supported and accredited to sit and decide their future with respect to climate change at the Conference of Parties.
10 Billion Strong: What do you think needs to happen next to make progress on climate action?
Betty Osei Bonsu: It’s not what is discussed at COP but what happens after the discussion, was there first thought I had in my head before proceeding to COP26. Going forward, African countries have to pose a unified front on their demands towards adaptation. Planning for the next COP has to begin now and more youth have to be involved in all stages. Youth are the future generation, it’s our responsibility to own it and preserve it for the other generations. Let us turn off the tap to pollution and destruction.
* This interview has been edited for clarity and length.