Meet Farida Razaqi of the Climate and Society Class of 2024
Growing up in Afghanistan, Farida Razaqi witnessed how the climate crisis is deeply entangled with gender disparities. This motivated her to devote her career to exploring the connections between climate change, gender, and security.
Razaqi has earned a full fellowship to join the MA in Climate and Society program at the Columbia Climate School this fall. Previously, she studied environmental law at the University of Buffalo. She has also been active in climate research and organizing. Her research has shown that the countries most vulnerable to climate change tend to underestimate or ignore the relationship between climate change and social and political dilemmas in their policy and lawmaking processes and, therefore, fail to take practical actions to combat climate change. She has also argued that climate change has played a crucial role in strengthening the Taliban.
Below, Razaqi shares some of her experiences from growing up in a country that’s among the most vulnerable to climate change, and how it has shaped the focus of her career.
Congratulations on receiving a fellowship through the Climate School! How did you react when you got the news? And what does this award mean to you?
Receiving the Climate and Society Fellowship was a moment of pure exhilaration and gratitude. This award holds immense significance to me as it not only grants me the opportunity to pursue a second master’s degree, but also signifies a pivotal milestone in my academic and professional journey. It reaffirms the value of my work, ignites a deep sense of purpose, and motivates me to make a tangible difference in addressing the climate crisis. With this fellowship, I am empowered to engage in rigorous research, bridge disciplines, and advocate for evidence-based solutions that prioritize sustainability, social equity, and resilience.
Tell us about your background and how you found your way into the climate space.
I was born and raised in Afghanistan, one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. The strongest memories I have from my childhood are conflicts among farmers over irrigation water when water was scarce due to prolonged drought, or the times we walked to the water pump, miles away, waiting our turn for hours under the burning sun or freezing cold. Growing up, I witnessed how the climate crisis is deeply entangled with gender disparities and security issues, and this motivated me to devote my academic journey and career to the climate change, gender, and security nexus.
I pursued my first master’s degree in Environmental and Natural Resources Law at the University at Buffalo School of Law. At UB Law, besides enriching my knowledge through taking advanced environmental law courses, I served both as a student-attorney in the Environmental Advocacy Clinic and, after graduation, as a program specialist for cultural and international issues, where I had the opportunity to work with actual clients on cases involving climate justice, environmental resilience, and transboundary wetlands. I have also served as a fellow at Niagara University, leading a new environmental justice initiative. Last fall, I organized a simulation that allowed students to step into the shoes of diplomats participating in COP27. Student delegates participated in discussions regarding climate change and related issues, such as gender disparities in climate change, loss, and damage, adaptation, and the net-zero goal.
Why did you decide to apply to the Climate and Society program, and what do you hope to gain from the program?
My professional goal is to work at the intersection of climate change, gender, and security with the UN or another international organization. My previous studies focused on legal and social aspects of the climate crisis, but the capacity to make a change in this interdisciplinary field necessitates expertise in climate sciences as well. The Climate and Society program stands out with its exceptional breadth and robust multidisciplinary foundation that complements my current expertise, making the opportunities it offers a perfect fit for both my research interests and professional aspiration. Additionally, the strength and diversity of the Climate and Society program are amplified by the inclusion of students from both social and natural sciences. This dynamic blend of expertise fosters a vibrant and collaborative learning environment where individuals can contribute their unique perspectives and challenge one another to grow.
Through my studies at Columbia’s Climate School, I hope to expand on my regional climate knowledge to attain a global perspective and to develop the ability to combine climate science and public policy in framing regional and global solutions to climate problems.
Which classes are you most looking forward to, and why?
In 2020, a severe flash flood happened in Afghanistan’s Parwan province. The flood happened at night while people were asleep. Tragically, many people died or disappeared. Most of the victims were women and children who did not know how to swim and who were vulnerable in other respects. It later emerged that the flood had been predicted hours before; however, the government failed to take action to evacuate people or to warn them about the coming disaster. And while the houses destroyed in the flood had been built on a playa and were therefore susceptible to flood, the government had never informed people of this fact. This event left me heartbroken. It also helped me see that people fall victim to natural disasters every day because of inaccurate climate forecasts and failures of assessment, communication, and risk management. Therefore, one of the core courses that I am most excited to complete is Climate Change Adaptation. This course will be immensely valuable in numerous dimensions, including advancing my skills in climate risk assessment, risk communication, and risk management.
I also aim to develop proficiency in working with complex climate datasets and developing quantitative models that incorporate variables measuring climate change’s social impacts. Therefore, the other core course I am eagerly looking forward to enrolling in is “Quantitative Methods for Climate Applications.”
What do you envision as your future role in solving the climate crisis?
Taking a climate justice perspective and embracing intersectionality, I envision my future role in solving the climate crisis by working on climate policies for developing countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. By advocating for inclusive and equitable climate policies, I aim to empower and amplify the voices of marginalized communities, especially women, and foster peace through environmental peace-building efforts. As a practical step towards achieving this vision, I plan to collaborate with like-minded advocates and researchers to establish a global research and advocacy network that, in the short term, launches a comprehensive vulnerability assessment of women worldwide from the threat of climate change. This network will propose and advocate for specific amendments to current international legal/policy frameworks, such as the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), that would add a gender lens to climate actions and require all states to update their domestic laws/policies accordingly.
What are you working on this summer?
This summer, I continue my work with the University at Buffalo School of Law and Niagara University Vincentian Center for Justice. Additionally, in collaboration with a group of Afghan climate advocates, we are planning to organize the first local conference of youth under the umbrella of YOUNGO, the official youth constituency of the UNFCCC in Afghanistan. Moreover, I have launched an initiative to mentor Afghan students, specifically girls who do not have access to education in Afghanistan, with their applications to universities abroad.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the opportunity granted to me through the Climate and Society fellowship. It is a privilege to be part of this program, and I am incredibly eager to dive into it, learn, collaborate, and make a positive impact toward creating a sustainable and resilient future for all.