It seems like it wouldn’t be a U.N. climate change summit without Angélique Kidjo, the Grammy Award-winning musician from Benin. She serves as both an Oxfam global ambassador and UNICEF goodwill ambassador. We spoke to her at the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, and she also is here in Paris calling for negotiators to reach an agreement that doesn’t leave out women and children, particularly in vulnerable countries in Africa. Amy Goodman interviewed her earlier this week about why she was inside the COP21.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from COP21, from the U.N. climate change summit. I’m Amy Goodman, joined by Angélique Kidjo. You know, it seems like it wouldn’t be a COP summit, a climate change summit, if Angélique weren’t here. Angélique, you’re a world-renowned singer. Why are you inside the COP here?
ANGÉLIQUE KIDJO: I’m inside the COP because everybody—I mean, when you walk in, you have a polar bear image. You have animals shown that are endangered. But what I see in my continent is the children that are bearing the brunt of this climate change crisis. Children have to walk far away to find food. Parents don’t have food for them. So sometimes they leave the children alone. Then, when there’s no supervision of parents, they are subject to violence. Young girls go to prostitution to find food for their parents and their little brothers and sisters. No one is talking about the children. We need the face of a human being to be the—I care for animals, don’t get me wrong. But I’m here to be the voice of those children that no one is talking about right now. Everybody’s focusing on finding the solution for business-oriented—it’s good business, too. But the future generation is going to be the one that’s going to pay biggest price for the climate change we are talking about now. We need to hear from them. They might have solutions. They can tell us what is going on. People are having more and more skin cancer in Africa. I mean, it’s—and nobody’s talking about the human face.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your own country and how climate change affects you in western Africa.
ANGÉLIQUE KIDJO: I mean, I realize that climate change has been affecting my country. Two or three years ago, when I went in, in December, expecting to have some certain type of fruit and food, and my mom was like, “We don’t find that anymore.” I said, “What do you mean? In December, that’s the fruit. That food I eat all the time. I grew up with those foods.” It’s not here anymore. Some spinaches are no longer there. Some species of fish are not there. And I’m like, “What is going on?” If I come all the way from New York, and I can’t eat this food that I grew up on, then something is really changing.
And the farmers—what is important that I have to bring to the table here is that when I was doing my album, Eve, I went to villages and spoke to women. Hundred women have sung on this album, and their concern was—first thing was climate change, because, they say, “We feel so powerless not to be able to feed our children, because the food gets more expensive. We can’t eat seasonally, because we don’t have the stuff anymore. It rains when it’s not supposed to rain. And we’re just powerless to see our girls go into prostitution. We know what they are doing to bring food home, but we can’t do nothing as parents.” The desperation of parents in front of—in front of those—the effect of climate change on their family is something that nobody is talking about. So, for me, I become the voice of those children, of those mothers, that want their children to be able to have three meals a day, to go to school.
AMY GOODMAN: Ultimately, you moved from Benin to New York, to the United States. The United States is saying this can’t be a binding agreement, because President Obama doesn’t feel he can get it past Congress if it’s called a treaty. Your thoughts?
ANGÉLIQUE KIDJO: My thought is that we have to stop playing politics when it comes to the Earth, because you cannot be—there won’t be no Congress, there won’t be no White House, if the climate change continues at the pace that is continuing. There is no other Earth somewhere we can go to. We have to realize that it’s about time we get serious in America, because we are the country that can lead this coalition. We are the country that can bring this treaty to action, because we have the means to do this. Enough of playing politics. Just get back to work, because their children, the Congress—there are grandparents there, there are parents there—their children are going to be the ones paying this. They’re going to be the ones telling their father, “When you were in the Congress, why didn’t you do something to save us? And look what we have to go through now.”
AMY GOODMAN: What is the role of artists, of performers, like yourself, in dealing with the issue of climate change? And how does climate change relate to inequality?
ANGÉLIQUE KIDJO: Climate change, for artists like me, as I travel a lot, and I see in my public less and less children coming in and more adults coming in, because—they always ask me, “Well, how do we bring climate change to our children?” I say, “Through song.” My song “Agolo,” I wrote that song, I was pregnant. And suddenly it hits me that—what Earth will my child habitate? And from that moment on, I become an advocate of climate change, because I’m like, we are the one that can do something for the next generation. And I think, if there’s no Earth, how can I do a show? Where can I go, and who am I going to talk to? Who am I going to sing to? And economically, it’s impacting also the means for people to buy a ticket to go to a concert. You have to choose between feeding your family or going to a show. I mean, it’s just like, for me, the politicians don’t understand what is going on. And the Congress, I have the feeling that they are living on another planet. They’re not living on Earth, planet Earth. If they are living on planet Earth, what we are talking about, they’re going to be the first ones saying, “OK, let’s get to work.”