From Rural India to COP28: Bhavan’s Climate Advocacy Journey

My name is Bhavan and I am a first-generation learner, the first in my family to pursue higher education. Growing up in an agricultural family in rural India and having to work in the fields, I often struggled to balance both work and studies. Today, I am not only the first to graduate from my village but also the first one to be travelling internationally to take part in COP28 as a youth representative of Restless Development.

I was born in a small agricultural village, Kattugollahalli, a rural district around 40 km from the centre of Bengaluru in the southern state of Karnataka. My father always said, “Do not become a farmer, focus on getting a secure job”. Perhaps this was because farming came with its own set of challenges. Often, farmers were forced to sell their cattle and lands for lower prices due to the falling prices and an unstructured market. Once proud owners of acres of land, many farmers are now working as gardeners and housekeepers near my village. 

The real estate boom and construction of big apartments and residential plots have led to a drastic change in Bengaluru’s landscape. The water table has dropped significantly. Families like mine have been forced to dig deeper wells of 1200 – 1800 ft, as opposed to just 150 ft of digging to access water. The cost of drilling multiple wells has pushed many families like ours into debt.

Agriculture contributes around 18% of India’s GDP, and over 50% of the Indian population directly depends on agriculture to make ends meet. However, the problems now faced by farmers are vast and multi-faceted. As a result, young people are migrating to cities to join the urban workforce, hoping to find roles in the IT sector. However, many lack the skills and competencies to find stable jobs. 

I was awarded a scholarship and used to travel around 60 km to reach my college. I have been taking the same route for years and have noticed that the road has become more congested and crowded over time. At first, I was not bothered by these changes and thought it was just development taking its course. But as I studied more, I began to look at this ‘development ’ from a critical lens. Now, I am amazed to see such drastic changes. Single-lane roads have now become double-lane. With the growth in population, the demand for public transportation has increased. Buses that used to be half-empty are now jam-packed. People need to wait for hours to get a seat. During my commutes, I sometimes spoke with the other passengers and heard similar plights. 

Determined to make a difference, I began working with local organisations and government agencies to develop solutions. At 18, I began volunteering at a local NGO to address youth employment and skill building. 

To support my education, I worked as a driver while studying in college. During this time, I met many drivers from faraway cities who had left their ancestral homes and agricultural land to build a better life in Bengaluru. While the city slept, many migrant workers’ workdays would just be starting. I’d often meet them while at work. These encounters and experiences ignited a passion in me for making a difference in the lives of informal workers. 

I was overjoyed when I received a scholarship to join the Masters in Development at the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru. It was here that I got an opportunity to connect with Restless Development. I worked as a Youth Climate Champion on youth’s livelihoods and their connection to climate change. Through this program, I began understanding more about climate change and its effects on livelihoods. 

Young people in India are experiencing the effects of climate change first-hand. They are aware of irregular rain patterns and have seen crops failing. Working as a Youth Climate Champion made me realise that young people can do something about these problems and can encourage others to take action for change. This realisation further ignited my passion to work on climate change and how it has affected farmers. 

I am travelling to COP28 in Dubai, a unique opportunity to raise voices for climate justice worldwide.  I hope COP will inspire transformative action that safeguards our planet for all those whose livelihoods are threatened by the climate crisis.

My career has allowed me to work directly with farmers and rural and urban poor communities, and see the world from their perspective. I have learned that we need “global action for local benefit,” and it is great that COP28’s theme focuses on frontline workers and nature, people, lives, and livelihoods, as well as inclusivity. 

COP28 holds immense significance for me as it amplifies the voices of frontline workers like myself on a global stage. Working with urban poor communities has instilled in me the profound importance of community participation in driving change. Over the next two weeks in Dubai, I hope to do this justice, while expanding my own knowledge to evolve as a global citizen, and effectively champion environmental justice. This is a great opportunity for me, one I never imagined possible given my background. I plan to make the most use of this platform for learning and networking – to contribute to a healthier planet, stronger communities, and a more secure future for all!

Feature Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Unsplash

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From Rural India to COP28: Bhavan’s Climate Advocacy Journey

by Bhavan Venkatapathi Reading time: 4 min