In 2013, Medha Priya who had just completed her board examinations witnessed the news of the Rana Plaza collapsing in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The eight-story garment factory's collapse led to more than a thousand deaths and a massive number of injuries. Known as one of the world's worst industrial accidents owing to irresponsible decision-making and neglect, it greatly influenced Medha's approach to what she wanted to do ahead in life. She became an architect to practice a consciousness which would contribute to buildings that were not just sustainable but also ensured the safety of human lives and the environment we live in.
From using sustainable infrastructure to bringing women to the forefront of the climate action dialogue, she is constantly on the move to enable change. Medha is also part of the Women Climate Collective, a group of women climate champions across Indian states, and was a crucial representation of the nation at the COP-26.
Medha Priya strongly believes that women hold a greater understanding of how climate change impacts their communities, lives and natural resources. As an educator, designer and architect, she took it upon herself to be an integral part of the narrative that sets the course for change in our fight against climate change.
In an interview with SheThePeople, Medha Priya discusses the urgency of dealing with climate change, how green infrastructure is a key component to bring shifts, and why it's time to bring the country's women to the forefront in the dialogue of climate action.
Medha Priya Interview
As a sustainable energy and architectural expert, what do you believe is a central element to effective climate change action?
Sustainable architecture can play a crucial role in combating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting energy efficiency, and reducing the environmental footprint of buildings. Sustainable buildings prioritise the use of energy-efficient design strategies and thus reduce the energy demand of buildings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable architecture prioritises the use of low-impact and renewable buildings that can reduce the environmental footprint of buildings and promote a circular economy. It also incorporates design features such as green roofs, living walls, and rain gardens. These features can mitigate the urban heat island effect, reduce stormwater runoff, and improve air quality.
What actions are most needed to advance gender equality in the context of climate action?
Climate change and gender equality are deeply intertwined, and efforts to address climate change must take into account the different impacts of climate change on women and men. Women are generally more impacted by climate change issues and efforts must be made to empower them with opportunities for education, training, and economic participation. There should also be gender-sensitive policies and programs that consider the different needs, experiences, and vulnerabilities of women and men. Lastly, women's leadership and participation are essential for effective climate action. Climate policies and programs should promote the participation of women in decision-making, including at all levels of governance, and support women's leadership in the climate movement.
Why is women’s leadership in this field important, and what will the world look like if women are represented more in climate action decision-making?
Women are disproportionately affected by climate change: Women are more likely than men to experience the impacts of climate change, particularly in developing countries. They bring unique perspectives and solutions to the climate crisis, drawing on their experiences and knowledge of the communities they live in. By promoting women's leadership in the climate movement, we can foster new ideas and approaches to addressing the climate crisis.
If women are represented more in climate action decision-making, it will help mobilise communities and drive social and environmental change, especially at the grassroots level.
What are the social benefits of green infrastructure?
Green infrastructure is the alternate approach to designing buildings compared to “grey” infrastructure. In this approach natural features are integrated into the built environment that makes construction cost-effective and sustainable. Green infrastructure also focuses on aspects of managing water, reducing pollution and enhancing the overall quality of life. The social benefits of green infrastructure are numerous and include improved public health, increased social cohesion, and enhanced recreational opportunities.
Green infrastructure is a key component of sustainable infrastructure. Sustainable infrastructure encompasses a broader range of considerations, such as energy efficiency, resource conservation, and social equity. Sustainable infrastructure seeks to balance economic, environmental, and social needs to create resilient and sustainable systems that can meet the needs of both present and future generations.
What are the differences you’ve noticed in the attitudes towards climate change in the past six years? What is the importance of local solutions?
Women’s participation in climate action has been on the rise. As women acquire more education, they are taking up key roles in the space of climate action. Large organisations are also devising plans to promote women’s participation and leadership in climate action such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted a Gender Action Plan in 2017. The GAP provides a framework for countries to promote gender-responsive climate policy and programming. There are a growing number of women-led initiatives and networks focused on climate action.
Local solutions are important to address climate change as the impacts of climate change vary by region, and local solutions are needed to address the specific challenges and opportunities in each community. They are often more effective than top-down approaches, as they are developed in response to the specific needs and priorities of the community. Local action on climate change can have a ripple effect, inspiring other communities to take action and driving broader societal change.
What do you mean when we talk about greenhouse activities that come out from construction capacity and climate change?
Construction contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in several ways. Embodied carbon refers to the emissions associated with the production and transportation of building materials, as well as the construction process itself. Buildings are responsible for a significant share of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The energy used for heating, cooling, lighting, and running appliances in buildings contributes to emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Construction generates significant amounts of waste, much of which ends up in landfills.
As waste decomposes, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The demolition of buildings also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, as the process generates significant amounts of waste and requires energy to power heavy machinery.
How can we get the conversation on climate change rolling as a priority across education systems in our country because it does start with basics too?
The first and foremost thing to do with regard to climate education in our country is to understand how wide the gap is before starting to fill it up. Before making any changes, it's important to assess the current state of climate education in India. Then, in order to make it a priority, we need to redevelop the national curriculum that includes climate change education and this should include both theoretical and practical aspects of climate change, such as the science behind it, its impacts, and possible solutions. Teachers and educators should be trained in the new curriculum to ensure they have the knowledge and skills necessary to teach climate change effectively.
The first and foremost thing to do with regard to climate education in our country is to understand how wide the gap is before starting to fill it up.
Workshops and training programs can be organised to provide them with the necessary resources and guidance. Lastly, climate education should not be limited to textbooks and lectures. Innovative teaching methods, such as hands-on activities, field trips, and interactive simulations, can be used to engage students in climate action.
From when you started working in this space to now, what factors have impacted your growth as a leader and an activist?
As a woman working in the climate space in India before, during and after the pandemic many factors have affected my journey. Limited access to mentorship especially at the beginning of my journey was one of the greatest challenges that I faced. The new reality of virtual communication was difficult at first but with time I learnt to leverage technology and build virtual networks to support my endeavours. Finding opportunities for collaboration was also a difficult task but with access to digital resources and communication channels, I was able to continue my work. As virtual collaboration and communication keep increasing, now is a great time to involve more women to participate in climate action from remote locations and communities.
What advice would you give other young women who want to work for climate justice like you are doing with the Women Climate Collective?
Women who want to work for climate justice must realise that the best time to begin is now. There is an urgent need for gender-inclusive climate action and for more women to get involved in decision-making conversations. Education and awareness are key when it comes to climate action. ">Climate change is a complex issue, so it's important to have a good understanding of the science behind it, as well as the policy and social implications. Joining a group of like-minded individuals can provide support, motivation, and a sense of community.
Look for local organisations or groups that are working on climate issues, or join online communities where you can connect with others who share your passion for the environment.