UN, UK vow to push youth climate demands at COP26 summit

by Megan Rowling and Laurie Goering | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 5 November 2021 18:24 GMT

Students from south Glasgow primary schools chant in George Square in central Glasgow as part of a Fridays for Future march alongside the COP26 U.N. climate change negotiations in Scotland, Nov. 5, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Laurie Goering

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As young people presented their proposed climate policies at the negotiations, thousands of student activists marched through Glasgow

* Thousands of climate activists march through Glasgow

* Youth at the U.N. talks present their blueprint for action

* COP26 leaders back their ideas as part of summit outcome

By Megan Rowling and Laurie Goering

GLASGOW, Nov 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Young people took centre-stage at the COP26 U.N. climate talks on Friday, presenting their demands for a greener, fairer world to the U.N. climate chief and senior UK politicians who promised to recommend their proposals to governments at the summit.

Outside the formal talks, thousands of banner-hefting climate activists, including large numbers of schoolchildren, streamed through the streets of Glasgow in the biggest public protest since the start of the negotiations.

"Leaders aren't listening. If they were they'd actually do something instead of just talking," said 10-year-old Eve Learmonth, a south Glasgow primary school student who toted a sign reading, "The dinosaurs thought they had time too".

Around her, classmates chanted, "We're not going to school, we want to keep our planet cool!"

Climate change activists march near George Square in central Glasgow, as COP26 U.N. climate change negotiations in Scotland neared the close of the first week on Nov. 5, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Laurie Goering

At a lively event on "Youth Day" inside the talks, members of the formal U.N. youth grouping outlined policies crafted by more than 40,000 young climate leaders from across the world.

Those sought a future based on clean energy, protection of nature and support for those hit hardest by climate change impacts.

"Our overarching demand ... is that the youth should be actively and meaningfully included in all decision-making processes concerning climate change governance and implementation," said a "Global Youth Statement" endorsed at a conference in Glasgow last week.

Marie-Claire Graf, 25, a leader of the youth constituency of the U.N. climate secretariat and a formal member of Switzerland's negotiating team at the last COP meeting in 2019, said more young people were winning negotiating roles.

Panama's delegation at COP26, for instance, has an average age of 27 – and more than half of the negotiators are women, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We're getting there, breaking down some mistrust," Graf said. "We see more and more delegations including young people."

But climate change impacts are also accelerating, she added, creating worry that policy shifts are coming "not fast enough".

Jan Kairel Guillermo of the Philippines, who said he had survived the world's strongest typhoon eight years ago, described the 78-page youth statement as more than "just demands".

"It is the effort and earnest attempt made by young adults to use their voice as a force for good," he told the event, adding thousands of young people had come together to produce it, aligning their ideas with scientific guidance.

A student from a south Glasgow primary school holds a sign reading, "Climate change is worse than homework" as part of a Fridays for Future march alongside the COP26 U.N. climate change negotiations in Scotland, on Nov. 5, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Laurie Goering

The asks outlined in the document included clean energy for all, more climate finance for vulnerable countries, new ways to tackle the "loss and damage" caused by extreme weather and rising seas, access to safe water and a carbon labelling standard for consumer products.

Clara von Glasow of Germany told politicians in the room that "we still trust you... because we need to".

"You have the power to make youth and our demands the priority," she said, calling for "real commitments" at COP26.

"If you don't take this seriously and step up your game, you're not only failing us, you're also failing yourselves and your children and grandchildren," she added.

In response, U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa pledged to "make sure that your proposals, your demands are considered" by negotiators in Glasgow.

"We need you more than you need us," she added. "The transformation that we need to see cannot happen if we do not work all together."

Britain's COP26 president, Alok Sharma, and its chief negotiator Archie Young vowed to work with young people at the talks to persuade ministers to take stronger climate action and incorporate youth proposals in the final Glasgow outcome.

Scarlet Kinnear-McMahon, 16, carries a sign reading, "Thistle be the end if we don't act now" during a Fridays for Future march to George Square in central Glasgow, alongside the COP26 U.N. climate change negotiations in Scotland, Nov. 5, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Laurie Goering

'EMPTY PROMISES'

Outside the talks, a huge march organised by Greta Thunberg's Fridays for Future movement ended in central Glasgow's George Square with young people saying they were counting on action as well as pledges to emerge from the talks.

"It's scary that it's got to the point that we have to do this," said Scarlet Kinnear-McMahon, 16, who carried a sign sporting an oversize purple thistle – a national emblem of Scotland - and the words, "Thistle be the end if we don't act now."

The Glasgow high school student said the arrival of world leaders to the climate talks in private jets and cars didn't give her much faith they were prepared to act on climate change besides talking about it.

"I want to see real changes in our society rather than a lot of empty promises, which is what it feels like right now," she said.

Luna Leuven, 14, who had made a 17-hour trip by bus and train to the talks from Belgium with 200 other young activists, said she was marching on behalf of the world's poorest, who were already suffering the worst effects of a shifting climate.

"What hurts me and motivates me is the people who don't hurt the climate, yet suffer the biggest impacts," she said, wearing a red shirt with "Change is coming" emblazoned on it.

Ruth Ewan, 40, a parent of one of the primary school students protesting, said many of them "get quite anxious" hearing about the risks from a heating planet, with some "feeling they're doomed".

But Ewan said she was encouraged that, among older children, "a whole generation has been moved and politicized by this" growing worry about climate change.

"I have confidence in people power and democracy" to drive change, she said, as her dog Dora - sporting a cardboard sign reading, "Paws climate change 4 good" - nosed for scraps nearby.

After reaching George Square, a lineup of young marchers, many indigenous or from developing countries, gave speeches as a large contingent of police, on foot and on horseback, kept watch and a helicopter circled overhead.

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace, praised the youth activists protesting in the streets.

"It's definitely not blah blah blah outside," she said, contrasting the urgency of the activists with slow progress at COP26.

Youth protests are having an impact on the talks, she added, with activist Greta Thunberg storming out of a meeting Wednesday on how companies can invest in planting trees and other measures to offset industrial emissions, calling it "greenwashing".

Morgan said corporate leaders at the event were visibly uncomfortable at her departure.

In a nod toward youth demands, more than 23 countries - including South Korea, Albania, Sierra Leone and Britain - put forward national pledges on greening education on Friday.

Those ranged from decarbonising schools to putting climate change at the heart of their curriculums.

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(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling and Laurie Goering @lauriegoering, additional reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Alister Doyle. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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