Clean up your mess, youth tell climate talks inside and out

Author: Seth Borenstein and Frank Jordans / AP
Climate activists march through the streets of Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021 which is the host city of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit. The protest was taking place as leaders and activists from around the world were gathering in Scotland’s biggest city for the U.N. climate summit, to lay out their vision for addressing the common challenge of global warming. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

The generation of young people who will inherit a warmer future is telling the generation that caused carbon pollution to clean up its mess — from both inside and outside United Nations climate talks.

Or better yet, let us do it ourselves, many say.

“It’s our future. Our future is being negotiated, and we don’t have a seat at the table,” said 20-year-old Boston College student Julia Horchos.

Horchos was one of the numerous young people inside the venue in Glasgow, Scotland, where government leaders, industry executives and activists are discussing how the world can avoid catastrophic climate change. But in her observer capacity, she’s still kept outside the offices where real decisions are being made.

There are more young people than ever roaming the halls at the talks. That’s in addition to the thousands of mostly young protesters carrying signs outside at a Fridays For Future rally some blocks from the fenced-off pavilion. Young people are being seen and celebrated in Glasgow. But they fear they’re not being heard.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and numerous other leaders have credited youth activism for reinvigorating the world’s fight to curb climate change. The UN’s theme Friday, in fact, was youth involvement, with leaders talking about how important young people are in the battle to keep the world from getting too hot and wild from extreme weather.

But even on a day dedicated to young people, the midday highlights were a speech by 73-year-old former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and a news conference by 77-year-old John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy.

In her several days of going to sessions, Horchos said only one had time for members of the audience like her to talk — and that was a special youth event. Sure, Diana Bunge, a 21-year-old also from Boston College, got to hear from three CEOs of multinational corporations, and Horchos met Kerry, but they didn’t get to make their case for their future.

“When I arrived at COP26, I could only see white middle-aged men in suits,” Magali Cho Lin Wing, 17, a member of the UNICEF UK Youth Advisory Board, said at a press event. “And I thought, ‘hold on is this a climate conference or some corporate event?’ Is this what you came for? To swap business cards?”

Still, they know it’s important to be at least near the room where it all happens.

“It’s my life,” Horchos said. “Its definitely my responsibility to step up.”

Outside the negotiations, the worry about the future was the same, but the way it expressed was different.

At Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park, mostly young activists carried banners with slogans such as “I have to clear up my mess, why don’t you clear up yours?” and “Stop climate crimes.”

The protest was part of a series of demonstrations being staged around the world Friday and Saturday, to coincide with the talks in Scotland

Some at the rally accused negotiators of “greenwashing” their country’s failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions by trumpeting policies that sound good but won’t do enough to prevent dangerous temperature rises in the coming decades.

“We are here as civil society to send them a message that ‘enough is enough,’” said Valentina Ruas, an 18-year-old student from Brazil.

Brianna Fruean, a 23-year-old activist from Samoa, a low-lying Pacific island nation that is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and cyclones, said: “My biggest fear is losing my country.”

“I’ve seen the floods go into our homes, and I’ve scooped out the mud,” she said.

Fruean was given the stage at the beginning of the conference, known as COP26, where she told leaders about the effects of climate change already being felt in her country.

“I feel like I’m being seen,” she said. “I will know if I’ve been heard by the end of COP.”

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