Any conversation about climate change in recent years usually comes back to one historic deal: the Paris Agreement. The 2016 accord, signed by 195 countries and outlining collaborative measures to combat rising temperatures, was one of the world’s greatest diplomatic success stories—and Shyla Raghav was one of the negotiators who made it happen.
As Conservation International’s climate change lead, Raghav oversees conservation efforts in almost 30 countries, many of them developing countries that have been hit hard by carbon emissions. She’s gearing up to negotiate again at the upcoming Global Climate Action Summit in California this September—and since the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Agreement last year, Raghav’s mission will be to convince private-sector businesses to pick up the government’s slack. “I’d like to see this event be a ground-breaking gathering of companies and investors to make real commitments, which will present a strong and compelling counter narrative to what we’re hearing from the federal government,” Raghav tells InStyle.
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Raghav has also been instrumental in redeveloping CI’s carbon footprint calculator, which anyone can use to figure out how they’re impacting the environment by inputting simple information like their commute to work and what they eat. The tool can determine the exact impact of, say, your wedding or your office holiday party, and help you purchase credits to offset those emissions. (Go on, give it a try.) Here, Raghav gets real about the biggest climate challenges we face—and what it will take from every single person to fight them.
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Witnessing climate change first-hand: “I don’t even think I need to say this, but climate change is real,” Raghav says, in response to recent opposition to the scientifically proven catastrophe. Born in India and having grown up in parts of Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, she’s seen the effects of climate change on developing countries with her own eyes. “Most of my family is settled in Delhi, [India,] now, and when I visited over the holidays just this past year, the smog and pollution was so bad that they had to shut down the airport because the planes didn’t have enough visibility to take off.”
After earning her masters in environmental management from Yale, Raghav flew to the Caribbean island of Dominica—an island that has since been completely wiped out by Hurricane Maria in 2017—to help assess the impacts of climate change on small island nations. Her work in Dominica and personal experiences in other developing nations were ultimately what motivated her to take on climate change.
The governmental blockade: The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement in June 2017 and has questioned global warming’s legitimacy, one of the most obstructive hurdles the country is facing when it comes to climate change, says Raghav. “It was really disappointing because it weakens us diplomatically and from an economic standpoint. Other countries are now investing in the energy of the future, and the United States doesn’t have a seat at the table there.”
But Raghav remains optimistic because concerned American citizens and companies can take matters into their own hands. “Economic forces are speaking for themselves: Renewable jobs are already beginning to vastly outweigh coal jobs, for example, and companies, a number of which represent trillions of dollars in revenue, have already signaled that they’re committed to upholding the [Paris] Agreement.”
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What you can do now: Raghav’s most important message: You can help protect your environment right now, whether by using a carbon calculator, voting on climate change at the ballot box, or, well, simply acknowledging the issue. But, she says, “the toughest part of my job is convincing people to act on climate change when it may not seem like it’s in their immediate financial interest.” The most common excuse she gets for pushback? Taking action is expensive. “People don’t realize that we haven’t done a very good job at fully considering the cost of inaction until disaster strikes,” she says. “Then the cost of inaction looks like hurricane Maria or Irma. I think this is an issue of short term versus long term.”
Putting up a fight: “As a woman who was a really shy kid, I tended to be more conciliatory in my approach to working with other people. But since accepting this job and just knowing the urgency of action on climate change, I’ve realized that we don’t have time to waste,” Raghav says. Her goal right now is to empower people and help them understand that they are at the center of the solution to climate change. “Let’s all be the ones who are solving climate change,” she says. “Let’s be solvers.”