As the business community slowly comes to grips with the economic risk posed by climate change, the search for solutions often ignores the ideas generated by grassroots activists.

That's a problem, said climate justice activist Elizabeth Yeampierre in a discussion with IBM's Ruth Davis about the role of tech companies in tackling climate change. The session, moderated by Insider's Voices of Color Editor Kenya Evelyn, was part of a broader Insider event, "Act to Impact: Keeping our Promise to the Planet," presented by Deloitte.

"People want our ideas, they just don't want us at the table," Yeampierre said. "But we are the ones that are actually changing the landscape in our communities, and nationally, and throughout the global south."

Davis highlighted the fact that the people most affected by climate change - in the US and worldwide - contributed the least to making the problem and have the fewest resources to deal with its effects.

Indeed, a 2019 report by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights estimated that 75% of the climate-crisis costs will be borne by developing countries, even though the poorest half of the global population produces just 10% of carbon emissions. If left unchecked, climate change will push 120 million people into poverty by 2030, the report warned.

"Solutions really need to be centered on racial justice and equity," Yeampierre said. "Climate change is demanding a different kind of citizenry, a different kind of interaction between people if we're going to win this together."

"We don't want to have a situation of climate apartheid here in the United States," she added. "Folks need to feel about climate change the same way that the people before us felt about the civil rights movement."

The 2019 UN report defined climate apartheid as a scenario where the rich pay to escape the consequences of rising temperatures, pollution, hunger and conflict, while the rest of the world is forced to "choose between starvation and migration."

Davis agreed with the call for inclusive, equitable solutions, and pointed out that IBM's Call for Code tech challenge emphasizes local impact, policy change, and social justice for all of its participants, and that tech tools can be a powerful force for change.

"We're looking for solutions that are accessible, customizable, and scalable," she said.

Davis pointed to a recent environmental justice hackathon at Howard University, a historically Black college, where a finalist drew on personal experience to propose an augmented reality concept to help property owners assess their risk of floods.

"Climate change is going to disrupt everything," Yeampierre said, stressing the importance of collaboration over winner-take-all competition.

"If we continue to engage with each other in the way that we have in the past and embrace old models that got us to where we are today, we won't win," she said.

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