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Front Line by Yurshell Rodriguez

Front Line by Yurshell Rodriguez, 26 years old Raizal woman, climate activist, and climate victim.


The first time I read the meaning of the front line, I understood it as something brave, and willing to risk almost everything. But having to rebuild your entire community, your ways of life, or losing people and things that are important to you, makes you deeply reject that courageous meaning that is to be in the front line.


Photo credit by Yurshell Rodriguez

I now understand what it means to be a climate activist but also a climate victim, after experiencing and being in front of the devastating effects of climate change.

I am from the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina Islands located in the Caribbean Sea of Colombia. I'm part of the native Afro-Caribbean Raizal ethnic group that for more than 200 years have lived in this small archipelago, being the guardians and the stewards of Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, declared by UNESCO as one of the most important ecosystems for health and sustenance of the world and the third-largest coral reef.

In recent years our misadventures with climate change have put us in check. In less than 15 years we have experienced the fierceness of 2 hurricanes Category 3 (2005) and Category 5 (2020) respectively, which have left us in a position of high vulnerability and also with little capacity to respond to change. This was also confirmed by The Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) in 2017 where it placed us as the regions with the highest risk due to climate change and the one with the lowest capacity of adaptation.


Being from a Raizal indigenous community and understanding the importance that our territory is for us, it is difficult to assimilate what is happening, because we know as a community that we are not the ones causing it - or rather we are not directly responsible for the instability of the climate, but yet we are first and most affected by catastrophes in our region, due to our insularity and our geographical position not listing the public politics and corruption we face in this country.

That is why I also understand that climate change cannot and must not be separated from the fight for human rights. The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect people who are already most vulnerable to its effects, such as indigenous communities, peasants, women, children, and those who are displaced by climate change and other conflicts that are related.

The countless human rights affected by climate change are broad and are impacted negatively. So my efforts to address climate change all address our affected human rights as indigenous raizal community. That is why in 2018, with 25 other young plaintiffs and the help of the NGO, Dejusticia, we sued our Colombian government to stop deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, one of the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions of our country, and we won the lawsuit.

We specifically asked our Government to submit a plan of action to reduce the rate of deforestation in the Colombian Amazon to zero by the year 2020, following the commitment they made in 2015 at the Climate Summit in Paris. And also requested that young people and the indigenous communities be taken into account in the decision-making of this process.

Photo credit by Yurshell Rodriguez


From a very young age, I always wanted to do something for my island, for my territory, and after having experienced the loss of mostly everything in this unfair battle that values oil and money over life and sustainability of the planet.


We had to be the front line, even if we did want to.

As a member of an indigenous Afro-Caribbean Raizal community, as a black woman, and as a young activist, I know that the future for the inhabitants of my island is uncertain, but I also know that we have a right to be part of the discussion of the climate crisis and climate justice and hold our leaders accountable for their inaction.


We the indigenous communities and youth of Latin America and the Caribbean are key in the discussion of climate action and climate justice for the building of a better future. We want to see these challenges as an opportunity for claiming climate justice and to build collective resilience for all of us as inhabitants of this planet.


Photo credit by Yurshell Rodriguez

I don't want my home to only be remembered by photos and the old tales, of its wonderful beaches, sunsets, and its marine biodiversity. I don't what they speak of us as one of many cultures in the middle of the sea that disappeared due to climate change. I don't want to be in the front line.



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About the Author

Yurshell Rodríguez is an Environmental Engineer from the National University of Colombia. She is a climate activist, research, and plaintiff in the first climate change and future generations lawsuit in Latin America. She is part of the native Afro-Caribbean Raizal ethnic group from the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina Islands, Colombia.


She has been dedicated, from very young, to the protection and conservation of ecosystems, participating in activities to protect the environment. Yurshell is currently in Providence island, supporting her post-hurricane community by delivering donations and working with the Old Providence Sea, Land and Culture Foundation.


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Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth supports all young people and their diversity in exercising their right to freedom of expression. Reach Not Preach platform serves as a safe space for all young people to share their take on the topic of climate change. The views expressed in the Reach Not Preach platform are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth and the United Nations.