MUMBAI, India – A Catholic member of India’s marginalized Tribal community has been named to a new United Nations advisory group providing perspectives and solutions to tackle the worsening climate crisis.
Archana Soreng, from Sundergarh in India’s Odisha state, and six other young climate activists from around the world who have been named by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to a newly established Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change.
“We are proud of Ms. Archana Soreng and of the great contribution she makes to this prime global concern and we rejoice at the greater role bestowed upon her of helping preserve our common home by advising and guiding the United Nations, which are committed to this cause,” said Goa and Daman Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão, the president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, the national body of the 192 Latin rite bishops in the country.
Soreng studied regulatory governance from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai and is the former president of the TISS Students Union. She is also the former National Convenor of Tribal Commission at Adivasi Yuva Chetna Manch, All India Catholic University Federation (AICUF).
After the appointment, Soreng told Crux her lived experience and education have enable her to “understand the role of indigenous communities in combating the climate crisis, and I feel it is us youth who have to be the front-liners for climate action.”
When making the announcement, Guterres said young people have been on the “front lines of climate action, showing us what bold leadership looks like.”
“We are in a climate emergency. We do not have the luxury of time,” he said. “We need urgent action now – to recover better from COVID-19, to confront injustice and inequality and address climate disruption.”
India’s Tribal community are the indigenous people of the country, and have long faced discrimination and social exclusion similar to that faced by Dalits, the low-caste Hindus formerly known as the “Untouchables.” Soreng belongs to the Khadia Tribe.
She told Crux indigenous communities have been protecting their habitats using their traditional knowledge and practices. She is in Odisha working as a research officer for Vasundhara Odisha, which is advocating for natural resource governance and tribal rights in the fight against climate change.
“I have been working on documentation preservation and promotion of traditional knowledge and practices of indigenous communities and their role in combating the climate crisis,” she told Crux.
If we talk about plastic pollution, the community members have alternate ways of living such as using leaf plates, having carpets made out of the date leaves, and also using cow dung for mopping the floor; so these are all practices,” Soreng explained.
She also noted that indigenous communities also have traditional water rejuvenation practices to combat water scarcity.
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“Even in terms of preventing forest fires: They have been going to forest specially during the summers making forest lines using their sickles among the dried leaves to prevent forest fires. Even if the forest fire is caught, they [the indigenous communities] are collectively going to stop it,” she continued.
Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar has known the Soreng family for years, having studied with her uncle at the seminary.
“She is very good practicing and living-faith Catholic. She lives an exemplary life as a Catholic and is a witness of her faith; a humble person who is very passionate about indigenous issues, the environment and climate change,” he said.
The archbishop said Soreng will use her new role to promote environmental values.
“She is a value promoter person. She has lived in these values from childhood and lived in this practical way with her family and community. She wants to promote these values,” Barwa continued.
The archbishop said her appointment “is a moment of pride for the Catholic community of Odisha and India.”
“As a student she has shown leadership in the given situation. I am hopeful she will do well taking Indian climate issues at UN level. I wish all the success as a promoter of the traditional knowledge and practices and contribute to the global efforts on climate change,” Barwa said.
The other members of the Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change are climate activist Nisreen Elsaim of Sudan; Fiji’s Ernest Gibson, the co-coordinator for 350 Fiji, a regional youth-led climate change network; Vladislav Kaim, an economist from Moldova committed to ensuring green and decent jobs for youth; Sophia Kianni, an American who has helped organize nationwide strikes and is the founder of Climate Cardinals, an international nonprofit working to translate climate information into over 100 languages; Nathan Metenier of France, who is the founder and coordinator of Generation Climate Europe and spokesperson for Youth and Environment Europe; and Paloma Costa of Brazil, a lawyer and human rights activist who has coordinated youth delegations to several climate conferences.
In a statement, the UN said the members of the committee “represent the diverse voices of young people from all regions as well as small island states.”
“They will offer perspectives and solutions on climate change, from science to community mobilization, from entrepreneurship to politics, and from industry to conservation,” the statement continued.
“The initial seven members of the group have been chosen to give frank and fearless advice to the Secretary-General, at a time of growing urgency to hold government and corporate leaders to account on climate action.”