Building on hope in Colombia and beyond

In the series of articles by our Youth Newsroom reporters, Christos Tsagkaris interviews climate activist Juan Pablo Sierra Suárez.

Juan Pablo Sierra Suárez grew up in a city of about 10 million people, surrounded by chaos and inequality. People from all over the region were looking for opportunities, while a particular contrast between mountainous green landscapes and grey polluted streets was growing. This city is Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. Living in Latin America has taught Juan a lot. Among others he emphasizes on the potential of Bogota to be a prosperous region, which is where his interest in solving nowadays regional and global challenges for ameliorating peoples life stems from. Juan’s studies in Government and Public Affairs while at the same time being fully engaged with climate activism has provided him with genuine incentives and valuable experience.

Juan, a 21-year-old undergraduate at Government and Public Affairs in a double program with Political Science at the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia), is one of the speakers of the Youth Session of the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021.

He was kind enough to spare time for a quick interview during  one of the Climate Adaptation Summit (CAS) 2021 breaks. We had the chance to discuss his work and vision for climate adaptation on a pragmatic basis, stemming from his community and extrapolating worldwide.

Tell us a bit about your work- how would you explain it to a primary school pupil?

My work is to be a builder, one that can contribute to building up more just and resilient societies. What I do is to share tools (knowledge, experience, time, passion, resources) with other youth who like me want to change the path that humanity has been taking through time and that now is leading us to a climate crisis.

Which problems of your community, your hometown or your country are you trying to tackle with your work?

Adaptation is a very important topic for my region, my country and my hometown. We are highly vulnerable to both direct and collateral effects of the climate crisis. By advocating for adaptation to be at the spotlight of political discussion (on a worldwide scale), I’m trying to help solving what was once thought to be a future issue, but now is a present one. By managing to provide information and putting pressure on decision makers, what I'm looking for is that the most vulnerable communities can escape from the worst scenarios (already unavoidable even if reaching the 1.5 degrees goal) that the climate crisis brings to them.

Which are the main challenges you have faced and what kind of change do you hope to bring in the next five years?

Two main challenges: first, we need to listen to people as we already do with science (or at least try to) in order to understand the reality “behind the numbers” of the climate crisis. econd, adaptation should be seen as a core idea when speaking on development; we must find ways in which adaptation projects can be financed, not by charity, but by investors who see and realize  the impact it has on the global economy. I hope in five years we have achieved concrete adaptation plans in the region, with specific financial mechanisms working towards more resilient societies. I also hope for people to be at the center of decision making, mainly frontline communities who are in fundamental need for climate adaptation to be a reality.

What has kept you going so far? If you could travel in time, what advice would you give to Juan the day before you initiated your activism?

Understanding there is hope in adapting, in building more just and resilient societies. There are many opportunities with redistributive benefits in society. Just think of Nature-based Solutions, indigenous knowledge on how to live more resilient lives, open information systems on risk and vulnerability, smart cities and interconnected rural areas, and last but not least, climate smart financial systems. An advice I would give  my younger self could be that solidarity and cooperation are fundamental for achieving climate action, that is the key.

Christos Tsagkaris