LONDON — It took officers 20 minutes to remove Ms Farhana Yamin from the Shell offices in London.
It was April 2019 and Ms Yamin was one of many protesters from the global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion taking to the streets of central London and calling on UK authorities to take climate action. But unlike other protesters, some of whom had always been anti-establishment, Ms Yamin had spent most of her life not just believing in the system, but working at its highest levels.
“My life and work are a dance between an insider and an outsider,” she said.
Her experience as an insider goes back more than 30 years. Ms. Yamin, 57, is an internationally recognized environmental lawyer and a respected adviser to developing countries and small island nations like the Marshall Islands, working on their behalf internationally.
She is also a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and was a key architect of the Paris Climate Agreement. Ms. Yamin is widely seen as responsible for securing, through behind-the-scenes diplomacy, a core element of the pact: the goal of net-zero emissions by mid-century.
After the deal, however, as Mr Donald Trump rose to power in the United States and other countries, continually delayed strong action on climate change, she said her confidence in the institutions began to weaken. crumble.
“I was naive about what we could accomplish,” Ms Yasmin said of her intellectual journey. “I learned that we cannot rely on lawyers and diplomats alone.”
This journey began when Ms. Yamin was studying law in her twenties. Growing up as a Pakistani immigrant in England who experienced racism, Ms Yamin knew she wanted to spend her career fighting injustice. When she embarked on an internship at a small environmental law firm in 1991 as a recent Oxford graduate, Ms Yamin knew she had found her calling. “I never looked back,” she said. “I was optimistic.”
Since then, Ms. Yamin has attended nearly every major international climate conference, but is best known for her work during the negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement.
She had spent years working with academics, civil society groups and lawyers to make emissions net zero – the idea of using reductions, carbon capture and carbon offsets to ensure that no additional greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere – the rallying call of the 2015 conference. “Farhana was one of a handful of collaborators who were prepared to step up and champion this quest,” said Ms Bernice Lee, director of sustainability research at Chatham House, a London-based research organisation.
But just months after Ms Yamin scored one of the biggest wins of her career, she said, things got worse. In 2016, some Western countries were witnessing a rise in nationalism and a growing distrust of international institutions, with Britain voting to leave the European Union and Mr. Trump threatening to withdraw the United States from the EU. Paris Agreement if elected.
“I felt like the whole multilateral world, the international human rights framework, was collapsing around me,” Ms Yamin said.
When, from a boardroom at a United Nations climate conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, Ms. Yamin watched Mr. Trump win the election, she was dejected. She felt her 30-year career as a government lawyer and climate negotiator was for naught.
“It was all going up in smoke,” she said. “I couldn’t tell my customers, I couldn’t lie to the Marshall Islands, that we were going to fix this.” Ms. Yamin took a year off, spending most of her time taking nature therapy classes and camping in nature for weeks.
In her spare time, Ms. Yamin began reading about other social movements, such as the anti-apartheid campaign and the suffragist movement, which used social mobilization and nonviolent resistance to advance their causes. “I felt the climate movement was almost unique and fragile, relying mostly on insider tactics and not movement building,” she said. “He didn’t rely on the full sets of tools.”
It was this idea that rekindled Ms. Yamin’s passion for the climate and helped her get back to work. Instead of returning to climate diplomacy, Ms Yamin joined the fledgling Extinction Rebellion, a grassroots group that uses nonviolent action and civil disobedience, in 2018.
Initially, Ms. Yamin became the leader of Extinction Rebellion’s political team, using her knowledge of diplomatic terrain to help the movement be more strategic in its activism and secure more funding. Even in her new role as an activist, however, Ms Yamin felt she relied too much on her intellectual skills instead of putting her body on the line. When a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on the Evolution of the climate was published in October 2018, Ms Yamin read the report as campaigners filled Parliament Square in London. Seeing pictures of young people refusing to move and waiting to be arrested, she said to herself, “I want to be with them.
Ms. Yamin spent the next two years working with Extinction Rebellion, organizing and protesting alongside other activists. She stepped down from her role with the band in 2020 due to disagreements with other executives. Yamin said she thinks the movement isn’t focused enough on climate justice.
Since then, Ms. Yamin has charted a new path – a path that does not depend on institutions or activist groups.
At COP26, the final UN climate summit, held last year in Glasgow, Scotland, Ms Yamin worked as hard as she always has at these events, eager to defend the heritage of Paris. But rather than spending her days in the negotiating room, surrounded by what she calls “toxic positivity”, Ms Yamin focused on building the movement and listening to vulnerable people speaking up. exterior of the conference center.
She said she left Glasgow heartbroken, both by the outcome of the conference and by the stories she had heard from marginalized communities about climate impacts. “I could almost cry. We keep pushing the deadlines,” she said. “At what point do we say, ‘Enough?’ ”
For her next chapter, Ms Yamin said she wanted to work directly with frontline communities of color in Britain and help mobilize the cultural sector to engage more on climate issues.
“We need the cultural sector and creatives to help us imagine our way out of the crisis,” she said. She also wants to educate philanthropic organizations about climate justice to help get more money for frontline communities. Its aim is to ensure that every pocket of society tackles the climate crisis. “Everyone should have ‘activist’ on their resume,” she said.
When asked how she felt looking back at her career, Ms. Yamin paused. “I’m proud of my accomplishments,” she said. “But I can’t keep doing this in the face of known indifference.”
She added: “I’m much more honest now.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.