Young activists call Glasgow climate conference 'last chance for humanity'

·Producer, Reporter
·6 min read

GLASGOW, Scotland — There are over 8,900 miles separating the African nation of Malawi from the United States. A direct airplane between the two would take an estimated 16 hours, and, as well as physical distance, the lands are also culturally miles apart.

But one thing that unites them, and many other nations around the world, is that they have young climate change activists fighting for their voices to be heard.

Some of those very campaigners have traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, to attend the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

Yahoo News spoke with some of the young changemakers to discuss their hopes at the landmark event.

Photo: Supplied by Nicki Becker.
Courtesy of Nicki Becker.

Nicki Becker, 20, Argentina

Jóvenes por el clima Argentina

Nicki Becker became a climate change activist after seeing a video of young people striking from schools across Europe in 2019, inspired by Greta Thunburg’s worldwide movement Fridays for Future.

“Nobody was talking about the climate crisis in my country, which is why I started to become a climate activist,” Becker said. “I thought, why are young people like me striking for something that I didn’t hear anything about?”

Now Becker, who is part of the Argentinian version of Fridays for Future (Jóvenes por el clima Argentina) is attending COP26 and explained her reasons for wanting her voice to be heard by officials and negotiators.

“They just can’t decide without [young people], we have to be there because this is the future that we are going to live in,” she said.

“I like to say that the hope is not in [COP26], the hope is in the movement. So I think, even if the [COP26] fails in a way, we are going to succeed, we are planning, we are stronger as a movement,” Becker added.

Photo: Supplied by Chifundo Zingunde.
Courtesy of Chifundo Zingunde.

Chifundo Zingunde, 25, Malawi

For Chifundo Zingunde, successful negotiations at the conference hold a different meaning.

“I’m pretty sure COP26 will be the last chance for the history of humanity,” said Zingunde, who is unable to travel to Glasgow but is participating in talks virtually.

“If we fail to unite, if the leaders fail to come up with something tangible, it means that they have destroyed the world,” he added.

Malawi, a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa, is already seeing some devastating effects of global warming. Flooding has left over a million people displaced in Malawi, which is among the nations facing the most damage from climate change. Its food security is particularly at risk as the planet’s temperatures rise.

“Climate change is an issue that is affecting everyone in Malawi. We have lost people who we were close with. We have lost families,” Zingunde said. “I just want the leaders to come up with action-based solutions. We have heard the speeches, beautiful speeches, ... sugarcoated by poetic devices. ... But we need action.”

Photo: Supplied by Sophia Kianni.
Courtesy of Sophia Kianni.

Sophia Kianni, 19, United States

Founder of Climate Cardinals, U.S. representative to the U.N. Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change

The event is also significant for Sophia Kianni, who explained why she believes young voices need to be listened to at the summit.

“Our generation will live through three times as many climate-change-induced disasters as our grandparents, so it is imperative for world leaders to act to ensure our chance at a livable future,” she said.

Kianni will be speaking on a number of panels and events at the conference, including meeting with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres as a member of his Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, and speaking on a panel with Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland.

“Only time will tell if the talks will be successful or not, but the young people fighting for our planet every day give me hope that a better future is around the corner,” she added.

Photo: Supplied by Jon Bonifacio.
Courtesy of Jon Bonifacio.

Jon Bonifacio, 24, Philippines

Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines

For Jon Bonifacio, the stakes of COP26 are high.

“What’s on the line is our survival, our right to life and a healthy planet, not just in the future but today,” he said. “In many ways, we’ve already run out of time, especially considering the reality of the climate crisis today.”

Bonifacio is from the Philippines, a country made up of more than 7,000 islands. The Southeast Asian nation is listed as the most vulnerable to climate change, according to a report published in 2019 by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Bonifacio said he dropped plans to study as a doctor to pursue climate activism full-time after finding out that the hospital he would potentially work in could be submerged under the sea level in less than 30 years.

“The youth will inherit the Earth, and we do not want to inherit a dead planet,” he said.

Photo: Supplied by Kevin Mtai
Courtesy of Kevin Mtai.

Kevin Mtai, 26, Kenya

Co-founder, Kenya Environmental Action Network

Another country particularly vulnerable to climate change is Kenya, with research suggesting its average annual temperature will rise by up to 2.5 degrees Celsius between 2000 and 2050.

Kevin Mtai, who is from the East African nation, is attending the COP26 conference to spread the word about some of the issues his country is facing.

“I think it’s very, very important for me [to attend] especially coming from the Global South, where we are from a most-affected area,” he said. “We no longer want people to represent that issue, we want [to represent] ourselves for our issue, especially to the leaders.” 

Mtai said that when he was about 3 years old, he grew up in a slum that was marred by pollution and plastic waste. He began campaigning for climate change after finding out that his mother, who died when he was a child, was poisoned by contaminated water.

“It’s a sad story for me to enter this field of activism,” he said. “And I’ve been getting a lot of discouragement from my relatives and also my friend saying, ‘Don't waste your time with placards in the street … saying climate change, climate change, climate change.’”

Photo: Supplied by Eve Redhead
Courtesy of Eve Redhead.

Eve Redhead, 25, United Kingdom

Engagement and information assistant for the 2050 Climate Group

When Eve Redhead was just 10 years old, she wrote to then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair to ask him to support sustainability through better recycling.

Her passion for campaigning has continued ever since, and she is attending COP26 as part of the 2050 Climate Group, a charity dedicated to helping young people take action on climate change.

People keep saying COP26 is the last chance, the best chance, but really it’s our only chance,” she said.

Redhead has also worked with the Media Trust, a charity that works in partnership with the media and creative industry to give marginalized groups a voice.

“We can’t take away what we’ve already emitted into the atmosphere, it will only accumulate. And so for older people, it’s not seen as a big concern, especially for people in the Global North,” she said.

“Yes, I’m a young person, so I will be affected more than an older person, but I’m also in a privileged position where I live and the infrastructure that we have that we can adapt to climate change far more than other people may be able to,” Redhead added.

Global temperatures are on the rise and have been for decades, step inside the data and see the magnitude of climate change.

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