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“Your Governments Have Failed You”: Syrian-American Student Calls for Climate Justice

Speaking on behalf of youth organizations, Munira Sibai criticized the actions of world leaders as she addressed the UN Climate Change Conference.

AMY GOODMAN: That song sung by tens of thousands of Belgians, now being sung around the world, just about an hour ago sung right behind us on the media bridge here in the Qatar convention center at the 18th climate change summit of the United Nations. I’m Amy Goodman, on our last day of coverage here in Doha, Qatar.

Syrian-American student Munira Sibai addressed the climate change plenary today, speaking on behalf of youth non-governmental organizations. She’s a 19-year-old student at Northern Virginia Community College and a member of the group SustainUS. She was born in the United Arab Emirates, not far from here, to Syrian parents, before coming to the United States.

MUNIRA SIBAI: [speaking in Arabic] I stand before you, given two minutes to make the same call of action that has fallen upon deaf ears for too long. Over the past two weeks, we have seen not only complete absence of vision, but also an active effort by some to move backwards. Those who have caused the climate crisis already accepted the responsibility to solve it two decades ago. Today, after 18 years of inaction, the same countries are backing away from that obligation. The foundational principle of equity is under attack. Serious discussions of cutting emissions have been sidelined. Instead, you focus on carbon markets, gambling with our futures, throwing lives like poker chips. As you sit here applauding yourselves, the Philippines is being ravaged by the 16th extreme weather event this year. Haiti, Cuba and the U.S. are still counting losses from Hurricane Sandy. The adaptation fund, necessary because of years of inaction, is in grave danger. You, the developed world, must put forward the carbon cuts we need and the money you pledged. You are well on your way to leaving a legacy of global devastation. We’ve been telling you this for years.

So let me now speak beyond the negotiators in this room to the people who I represent. Your governments are failing you. They are afraid that offering visionary pathways to low-carbon economies will make them look foolish, that taking responsibility will make them look weak, that standing up to the money and power of polluters will cost them political support. Unchecked, this cowardice will cost lives. Here in the halls of the United Nations, the voices of global citizens are limited, regulated and relegated to these short, symbolic statements. Outside these walls, these walls, there is a global movement, growing up from the grassroots, calling for climate justice. [speaking in Arabic] Join us.

MODERATOR: Munira, I think—thank you, Munira. I think you are very popular, you know. So I advise you to nominate you in the next election. You will win.

AMY GOODMAN: Syrian-American student Munira Sibai, speaking earlier today before the plenary. She ended her speech with a quote in Arabic from the poet Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi, popular during the Arab Spring, which translate roughly to: “If the people ever wanted life, destiny must respond.”

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