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Youth climate activists exasperated by lack of bold action ahead of COP26

29th Oct 2021
Youth climate activists exasperated by lack of bold action ahead of COP26

There is a striking difference between climate conferences led by the youth versus those put on by world leaders—tone.

Politicians try to strike a hopeful tone, to bring more attention to what they have accomplished rather than what still needs to be done. Young people express exasperation and point to examples of how their futures will differ from those of the world leaders focused more on protecting their economies than staving off climate change.

‘The Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition’ conference took place in Milan, Italy, on September 28-30. The conference was meant to galvanize action on climate in the run-up to COP26, which will take place in Glasgow in early November.

The most memorable youth speakers at the Youth4Climate conference were Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

Nakate began by telling a story of fellow Ugandans who had been washed away and killed the previous week by a heavy downpour. Nakate spoke of how climate change is affecting Africa more acutely than global north countries, despite it being the continent that emits the lowest amount of CO2, save Antarctica.

She asked, “Who is going to pay for the lost islands of the Caribbean and Pacific? Who is going to pay for the communities that must flee the Bangladeshi coastline? Who is going to pay for the thousands of species that fall off of the scientists’ red list and into oblivion? How long shall the land mourn? How long shall the farms lay in ruins?” After her speech, she was overcome by emotion and Thunberg comforted her.

Greta Thunberg, famous for her harsh criticism of world leaders’ inaction on climate repeated, “blah blah blah” in her speech, referring to the commitments politicians tout and do not follow through with.

She said, “They invite cherry-picked young people to meetings like this to pretend that they are listening to us, but they are not. They are clearly not listening to us, and they never have. Just look at the numbers. Look at the statistics. The emissions are still rising. The science doesn’t lie.” Alok Sharma, head of COP26, who was on Zoom, did not look amused.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the conference via video and praised the younger generations for tackling the climate crisis. He admitted that they would be the ones to bear the brunt of climate change’s effects should today’s leaders fail.

He focused on phasing out coal, speaking about how most of the UK’s energy mix now comes from renewables. Johnson referenced a recent study that found that children born in 2020 would experience up to 7 times more extreme climate events in their lifetime than people were born in 1960 (around the time many of the world’s current leaders were born.)

That disconnect is why young activists express such passion over the climate issue; those who are failing to take bold action now will not be around for the effects.
Pope Francis also sent a video addressing the conference, thanking the youth for being, “as concerned about human relations as you are about caring for the environment.”

The Pope’s message linked the current polarization to inaction on the pressing climate issue. He stated, “This vision is capable of challenging the adult world, for it reveals that you are prepared, not only for action but also for patient listening, constructive dialogue, and mutual understanding.”

A portion of the Youth4Climate event brought together education ministers and youth activists to discuss education on climate issues and give young people a seat at the table when nations decide on their climate commitments.

The Pre-COP event did not receive as much worldwide attention as COP26 will. There has been criticism over whether such an event should be held in person, flying delegates from all over the world to one place, but leadership pointed to the difficulty of making such important decisions in a virtual setting, considering time zones and technical difficulties.

China and India have still not sent their updated carbon-cutting commitments to the delegation. Chinese leader Xi Jinping does not plan to attend due to coronavirus concerns, and the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has not yet decided.

As world economies grapple with global shipping issues and higher demand for goods than ever before, bringing into sharp focus the globalised nature of the world, it remains to be seen whether current economic models allow room for bold climate action.

Reducing coal consumption is a great start, but natural disasters are already fairly commonplace. The Paris agreement allows some major emitters to reach peak emissions in the future.

Is such a model, where the economy comes before climate action, be a tenable model for giving the youth, future leaders of the world, a chance to avert disaster and bolster their own nation’s economies, or will they be forced into survival mode?

Sarah Sakeena Marshall,
Grit Daily Contributor,
The Muslim News Environmental Columnist


[Photo: “Youth4Climate” pre event summit held at the MiCo conference hall in Milan, Italy on 28 September 2021. Photographer: Piero Cruciatti/AA]

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