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Saori Iwano,18, is a member of the youth-led climate movement Fridays for Future, which was launched in 2018 by Greta Thunberg and other young activists. Iwano, along with several other young Japanese activists, launched a chapter of the group here in February 2019 and this year attended COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow.

1. After this year, what grade would you give Japan on climate? I’d give Japan a C-.

2. Ouch, why such a low grade? It comes down to (our) decision-making process, but also the most urgent issue of the continued use and export of coal-fired power plants, and that the emission reduction target doesn’t integrate the Paris Agreement goals.

3. How old were you when you started getting involved in activism? I was 15, in ninth grade.

4. How did you get into it? I was inspired by the words of (environmental activists) Severn Cullis-Suzuki and Greta Thunberg. They both made me realize how adults say what younger people should do while they don’t act themselves. I thought I should act.

5. Has the pandemic affected your activism? We were able to discuss some topics with former Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, but we weren’t able to do anything in public in person. So, we switched to online activities, but it was harder to catch people’s attention.

6. You went to COP26, what was memorable about that experience? I was able to meet indigenous people from Brazil who are treated very poorly since they are affected by industrialization. We need to change that.

7. I heard you met Greta Thunberg, did you meet any other interesting people in particular? Yeah, I spoke with Johan Rockstrom (the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research). He told me we shouldn’t lower our hopes from the 1.5 target and that the world needs to proceed step by step. It was encouraging.

8. Was there anything you weren’t too keen on? I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t separate waste very well, and the discussions felt very Eurocentric.

9. Do you communicate with activists in other countries? After coming back from COP26, yes. Nowadays, I meet with around 26 activists from Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines.

10. Was it easy to connect with them? Yes, attending the Conference of Youth made it much easier. We also got to know each other through demonstrations and hung out a lot at an activist base near where we were staying.

Saori Iwano and her friends attend a demonstration in Glasgow during COP26. | COURTESY OF SAORI IWANO
Saori Iwano and her friends attend a demonstration in Glasgow during COP26. | COURTESY OF SAORI IWANO

11. What are other young activists doing overseas that we’re not doing in Japan? The discussion about climate is way more advanced abroad than it is here. In Japan, we mostly discuss superficial problems. At COP, decolonization was a central topic, for example.

12. What is something unique about activism in Japan? Demonstrations and boycotts still give a negative impression to people, so we do peaceful marches in order to make the movement more approachable.

13. How do you balance activism and your studies? I think I stay balanced because taking part in activism never feels forced, it’s always exciting. Frankly, only studying would be a bit boring to me now.

14. How does youth activism differ from activism by adults in Japan? We use more social media and try to explain difficult subjects by using visuals. It’s easy for us to go live on social media, too, we did that at COP.

15. What makes someone an activist? Anyone who has a strong belief — with evidence — and wants to make lasting change in the world based on that belief is an activist.

16. If other young people want to get involved in activism, where’s the best place to start? I’d say talk to your friends about social issues that you can relate to. Starting the conversation is crucial, and effective for spreading awareness.

17. What was your favorite piece of content this year related to activism? Tough question. There’s a podcast called “Our Voices, Our Choices” that I like, and the episode “Ecofeminism, social media & the climate crisis” was quite interesting.

18. What was your favorite piece of content this year that wasn’t related to activism? I listened to a lot of Sona Jobarteh this year, she plays beautiful West African music.

19. Do you have a New Year’s resolution? I want to spotlight other issues that are connected to climate change to bring about a better understanding of what the environmental movement is really about.

20. What is one thing everyone should do in 2022 to help the environment? Talk more and discuss the issues with each other. I think that’s how people begin to understand how other societal problems are connected to climate change.

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