Youth Climate Activists Slam Political Inaction at UN Summit Ahead of COP26

Thousands of youth climate activists marched through the streets of Milan last week demanding world leaders meet their pledges to the Paris Climate Agreement and keep global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The protest came at the end of a three-day youth climate conference, ahead of the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Activists at the Youth4Climate conference slammed political inaction on the climate crisis and world leaders’ vague pledges to reduce carbon emissions. “Historically, Africa is responsible for only 3% of global emissions,” said Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate. “And yet Africans are already suffering some of the most brutal impacts fueled by the climate crisis.” Swedish activist Greta Thunberg mocked the jargon politicians use to talk about climate and the environment. “Net zero, blah, blah, blah. Climate neutral, blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders: words — words that sound great but so far has led to no action,” said Thunberg. “Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises.”

TRANSCRIPT

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today’s show looking at the climate emergency. Thousands of climate activists marched Saturday through Milan, Italy, as leaders from around the world met for the pre-COP26 summit during a year that’s seen record-breaking heat waves, floods and fires. Climate activists also spoke last week at the U.N.-sponsored Youth4Climate conference in Milan. This is Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate.

VANESSA NAKATE: My name is Vanessa Nakate, and I live Kampala, Uganda, a country that has one of the fastest-changing climates in the world.

In the past few years, I have seen more and more how the climate crisis is affecting the African continent, which is ironic given that Africa is the lowest emitter of CO2 emissions of all continents except for Antarctica. Historically, Africa is responsible for only 3% of global emissions. And yet Africans are already suffering some of the most brutal impacts fueled by the climate crisis: rapidly intensifying hurricanes, devastating floods and withering droughts. Many Africans are losing their lives, while countless more have lost their livelihoods.

The droughts and floods have left nothing behind for the people, nothing except for pain, agony, suffering, starvation and death. A recent World Bank report warned that we could see up to 86 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone displaced due to rising sea levels, desertification, declining fresh water and food scarcity. Over the past few months, there have been deadly heat waves and wildfires in Algeria and devastating flooding in countries like Uganda and Nigeria. And the U.N. has declared that Madagascar is on the brink of the world’s first climate change famine. Tens of thousands of people are already suffering catastrophic levels of hunger and food insecurity after four years without rain. Who is going to pay for Madagascar?

And, of course, this is not just happening on the African continent. Hurricanes Irma, Maria, Dorian and Harold have left some islands in the Caribbean and Pacific totally uninhabitable. Six million Bangladeshis have become displaced as a consequence of climate change. By 2050, 17% of the country’s coastline will vanish underwater, creating an estimated 30 million climate — climate refugees. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature recently announced that there are now well over 38,000 species on its red list, the best available catalog we have of the species facing extinction.

Who is going to pay for the lost islands of the Caribbean and Pacific? Who is going to pay for the communities who 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 the oblivion?

How long shall the land mourn? How long shall the farms lay in ruins? How long shall the hubs of every field wither? How long shall the animals and the birds perish? How long shall children be given up for marriage because their families have lost everything to the climate crisis? How long shall children sleep hungry because their farms have been washed away, because their crops have been dried up, because of the extreme weather conditions? How long are we to watch them die of thirst in the droughts and gasp for air in the floods? What is the state of the hearts of the world leaders who watch this happen and allow it to continue?

Our leaders are lost, and our planet is damaged. Loss and damage used to be something people thought of as happening only in the Global South. As we have seen in the recent months with wildfires in California and Greece and floods in Germany and Belgium, loss and damage is now possible everywhere. Everywhere I go, leaders fall over themselves to say how they will achieve net zero by such and such a date to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Sometimes I hear leaders talk about the need to fund adaptation efforts, where mitigation will no longer be enough.

AMY GOODMAN: Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate speaking Thursday at the U.N.-sponsored Youth4Climate summit in Milan, Italy. Also speaking there was the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

GRETA THUNBERG: Climate change is not only a threat; it is, above all, an opportunity to create a healthier, greener and cleaner planet, which will benefit all of us. We must seize this opportunity. We can achieve a win-win in both ecological conservation and high-quality development. Fighting climate change calls for innovation, cooperation and willpower to make the changes that the world needs. We need to walk the talk. If we do this together, we can do this.

When I say climate change, what do you think of? I think of jobs, green jobs. Green jobs. We must find a smooth transition towards a low-carbon economy.

There is no planet B. There is no planet Blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. This is not about some expensive, politically correct, green act of bunny hugging or blah, blah, blah. Build back better, blah, blah, blah. Green economy, blah, blah, blah. Net zero by 25 — 2050, blah, blah, blah. Net zero by 2050, blah, blah, blah. Net zero, blah, blah, blah. Climate neutral, blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders: words — words that sound great but so far has led to no action. Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises.

Of course, we need constructive dialogue, but they’ve now had 30 years of blah, blah, blah, and where has that led us? Over 50% of all our CO2 emissions have occurred since 1990, and a third since 2005 — all this while the media is reporting on what the leaders say that they’re going to do, instead of what they are actually doing, and they’re not holding leaders accountable for their action, or, rather, inaction.

And don’t get me wrong: We can still do this. Change is not only possible but urgently necessary, but not if we go on like today. They say they want “solutions,” but you cannot solve a crisis that you do not fully understand. You cannot balance a budget if you do not count all the numbers. And as long as we ignore equity and historic emissions, and as long as we don’t include consumption of imported goods, burning of biomass, etc., etc., and as long as clever accounting is one of the most efficient ways of reducing emissions, we won’t get anywhere.

And the climate crisis is, of course, only a symptom of a much larger crisis, a sustainability crisis, a social crisis, a crisis of inequality that dates back to colonialism and beyond, a crisis based on the idea that some people are worth more than others and therefore have the right to exploit and steal other people’s lands and resources. And it is very naive to believe that we can solve this crisis without confronting the roots of it.

Right now we are still very much speeding in the wrong direction. 2021 is currently projected to experience the second-highest emission rise ever. Only about 2% of government recovery spendings have been allocated to clean energy measures. And according to a new report by the U.N., global emissions are expected to rise by 16% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.

Our leaders’ intentional lack of action is a betrayal towards all present and future generations. The people in power cannot claim that they are trying, because they are clearly not, as they continue opening up brand-new coal mines, oil fields and pipelines, pretending to have ambitious climate policies while granting new oil licenses, exploring enormous future oil fields and shamelessly congratulating themselves while still failing to come up with even the bare minimum and long overdue funding to help the most vulnerable countries deal with the impacts of the climate crisis. If this is what they consider to be climate action, then we don’t want it.

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.

But, of course, we can still turn this around. It is entirely possible. It will take drastic annual emission cuts unlike anything the world has ever seen. And as we don’t have the technological solutions that alone can deliver anything close to that, that means we will have to change. We can no longer let the people in power decide what is politically possible or not. We can no longer let the people in power decide what hope is. Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Climate activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden speaking in Milan, Italy, at the U.N. Youth4Climate summit. Saturday, thousands of climate activists marched through Milan. Italian police in riot gear clashed with climate activists, who are calling on the COP26 policymakers to wean the world off fossil fuels.

And that does it for our show. A very happy birthday to Becca Staley!

Democracy Now! currently accepting applications for two positions: director of finance and administration and human resources manager. Learn more at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.