Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Greta Thunberg and other youth activists call out world governments

  • At the Youth4Climate event held weeks before the COP26, young environmental activists, such as Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate, called for government action
  • “Our leaders’ intentional lack of action is a betrayal of all present and future generations,” said Greta
Agence France-Presse |

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From left; Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, Italian Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala pose for photographers at the start of a three-day Youth for Climate summit in Milan, Italy, on Tuesday. Photo: AP

Youth activists on Tuesday called out decades of “empty words and promises” from world leaders as they demanded action - and money - to tackle global warming ahead of a pivotal UN climate summit.

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) meeting in Glasgow is seen as crucial to the viability of the Paris climate agreement. Weeks before the meeting, campaigners used the opening of the three-day Youth4Climate event in Milan to criticise governments for their failure to address the crisis.

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Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg slammed governments for “shamelessly congratulating themselves” for insufficient pledges to cut emissions and promises of financing.

Hurling leaders’ own words back at them, the 18-year-old laid bare to delegates at the event the gap between words and action.

“There is no Planet B, there is no planet blah, blah, blah,” Greta said to warm applause.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the Youth4Climate conference in Milan, Italy. Photo: DPA

Echoing a speech by COP26 summit host Boris Johnson in April, she continued: “This is not about some expensive politically correct dream of bunny hugging, or build back better, blah blah blah, green economy, blah blah blah, net zero by 2050, 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 have led to no action, our hopes and dreams drowned in their empty words and promises,” said Greta.

Some 400 youth activists from nearly 200 countries gathered in Milan will author a joint declaration by the end of the week, as a lead-in to COP26 in November in Glasgow.

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“Our leaders’ intentional lack of action is a betrayal of all present and future generations,” said Greta.

She said governments had been “shamelessly congratulating themselves while still failing to come up with the long overdue funding” for developing nations.

Ugandan youth activist Vanessa Nakate echoed Greta’s exasperation at leaders’ lack of urgency.

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“How long must children sleep hungry because their farms have been washed away, because their crops have been dried up because of the extreme weather conditions?” she asked attendees.

“How long are we to watch them die of thirst and gasp for air in the floods? World leaders watch this happen and allow this to continue.”

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, right, is comforted by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg after being overcome by emotion after speaking at the opening of the three-day youth summit. Photo: AP

COP26 is vital for the effective implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which saw countries commit to limit global temperature rises to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.

The landmark deal aims for a safer warming cap of 1.5C.

But six years after the accord was struck, countries still haven’t agreed how it will work in practice.

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Among long-overdue issues still outstanding for COP26 is how each country’s carbon cuts will be counted, as well as how the fight against climate change would be financed.

Nations already suffering from extreme floods, droughts and storms supercharged by rising seas have called on developed countries at COP26 to make good on a decade-old promise to provide US$100 billion each year to help them recover and adapt.

COP26 President Alok Sharma told delegates on Tuesday that the summit was a chance for “developed countries to make good on their promise of money to support developing countries dealing with rising impact of climate change”.

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Host Britain says it wants the Glasgow summit to keep the 1.5C temperature goal viable, specifically by seeking a global agreement to phase out coal power.

However, earlier this month the United Nations said that the latest round of country emissions reduction plans still puts Earth on course for a “catastrophic” rise of 2.7C.

A view of the opening session during the second day of the Youth4Climate pre-COP26 conference in Milan, Italy. Photo: Reuters

“It’s time for our leaders to stop talking and start acting, it’s time for the polluters to pay, it’s time to keep promises,” said Vanessa.

“No more empty promises, no more empty summits, no more empty conferences. It’s time to show us the money.”

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