Brianna Fruean, a 23-year-old Samoan activist, put it simply when addressing world leaders at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP26): “We are not drowning; we are fighting.” The youth climate movement is present and vocal in Glasgow, both inside the conference room as well as out on the streets – and it is supported by millions of young people around the globe. While many more had wished to come to the climate summit but were unable to do so because of lack of access to Covid-19 vaccines or other hurdles, thousands gathered this weekend for the COP26 climate strike. Youth climate activists Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate (Uganda), and Mitzi Jonelle Tan (Philippines) addressed the crowds in Glasgow and urged immediate, real climate action. For them and their peers, the commitments made by governments during the conference are nowhere near sufficient to prevent a climate catastrophe. In a letter to world leaders, the activists call governments’ recent announcement of climate commitments a “betrayal,” and warn of a “terrifying future that will be created, or avoided, by the decisions you make”.
The young protesters say that climate action is more urgent than ever and cannot be delayed any longer.
Their lives, and those of future generations, are at stake. Already, children around the globe face death, illness, hunger, displacement, and other serious impacts from rising temperatures, drought, storms, forest fires, and floods due to governments’ inadequate climate policies. Children from poor and marginalized communities are particularly at risk. Climate policies that are currently in place around the world are projected to result in global warming of about 2.9°C above pre-industrial levels – with disastrous consequences for children’s lives and livelihoods. Governments have a human rights obligation to prevent harmful climate impacts globally, not just within their own borders.
They need to finally listen to these young people and begin to drastically cut carbon emissions, in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, which sets the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and with best available science. Those most at risk of climate impacts like Brianna from Samoa and her young peers around the world should not be alone in fighting for a future in which climate justice is a reality for all.
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