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Children of the Climatevolution! Let's Talk Climate Activism and COP26

Young people have been at the forefront of climate advocacy for decades, with the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 being a key moment in the movement. This is the latest generation of young climate activists, and crucially the last generation that can secure meaningful policy change and actions from our governments, before it is too late for humanity to avoid the worst consequences of a hot-house Earth.

Andra Vladu (18), youth advocate and YCNI activist, shares the point of view of young people waiting for the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow.

By Andra Vladu, YCNI Activist  

Youth Climate Activism in a nutshell

Andra VladuIn 2018 Greta Thunberg started striking from school on Fridays, asking the very pertinent question – “If you don’t care about my future, why should I?” She was dismayed to discover that very little was being done by governments to address the plastic pollution and climate warming crisis. Her words and her commitment to Friday strikes struck a chord with millions of other young people like me, who were also wondering why politicians and governments were not acting like the house was on fire, when the science and the signs clearly tell us that it is?

The impacts of our heating climate have been unfolding around the world - more frequent and more intense heatwaves, draughts, flooding events, supercharged storms, coastal erosion, ice caps melting, ocean acidification. Every country and all people have been impacted and will still be impacted by climate change, but the people and communities at the forefront of climate change have done the least to cause it. They count on us to act!

The mathematical models that the science presents, tell us to act urgently, while a relatively ordered and just transition to a sustainable way of living is still possible. Unless we rapidly reduce greenhouse gases, catastrophic and far-reaching events will follow. It is no surprise then that the scale of the youth climate movement is proportionate to the scale of the threat.

I take great comfort in the open-mindedness and spirit of solidarity I see in our movement. We recognise that climate change sits at the intersection of a number of key issues, which are interdependent in their causes and solutions. We campaign for urgent and meaningful actions on climate, nature restoration, and pollution, to achieve Climate Justice. It addresses related socio-economic issues of racism, gender discrimination, countries’ natural resources’ exploitation with little or no benefits to their people, inequality and Indigenous rights.

The movement in Northern Ireland

Passionate local youth were quick to join the global movement in 2019. Two main organisations formed here - Youth Climate Action NI and Fridays for Future NI.

We collaborate on joint actions and have common membership, and we also run separate initiatives.

In Northern Ireland, young people are protesting the slow pace of progress on climate action. The first strikes started early in 2019, and in September 2019 we joined the first global youth strike for climate. It was an awe-inspiring event! Thousands of people of all ages joined us on the streets to express our concern about the state of the planet, the impact of climate at local level, and to demand adequate action from our local politicians. This resulted in a Climate Emergency being declared by the Stormont Assembly and a number of local councils.

However, the pace of implementing the necessary actions to set NI on a sustainable path has been far too slow since then. While progress is being made in increasing electricity generated from wind power, little development is taking place in other areas such as transport, heating, agriculture, licensing for fossil fuel projects and nature restoration. Some solutions are easily available and could be rolled out rapidly.

Northern Ireland was the only country within the UK not to have a legislation in place to drive climate action. It ended up with two Bills, the Private Members (No1) Bill and the DAERA (No2), with obvious concerns about two climate change Bills passing through the Assembly at the same time. 

The good thing is that solutions to the climate, biodiversity and pollution crises overlap, and progress in one area will have multiple benefits for all others.

We gathered again in September 2021, as part of the global youth strike, to express our dissatisfaction with the pace of change and to demand that faster and adequate action is taken. Young climate activists from YCANI and Fridays for Future shared their views, along with local campaigners on fossil fuel licensing in the Sperrin Mountains. We invited representatives from the local political parties to attend and provide an update on their position and progress on climate related initiatives. We heard from representatives of the Green Party, the SDLP, People Before Profit and Unite Union. Unfortunately, other political parties did not attend. 

Views on the coming COP26

Our attention is currently focused on the UN’s Climate Change Summit COP26, which will take place in Glasgow in early November.

The Paris Agreement reached at the end of COP21 in 2015 is a key reference point in these negotiations. Nations agreed to limit temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2018) report, explained that to achieve this goal CO2 emissions must be reduced by almost half by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. Then we have to reach net-zero globally around 2050. It said that “limiting global warming to 1.5C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. We have not yet seen such changes taking place.

Instead, the UN has recently stated that the pledges made by national governments on emissions reductions are insufficient, and lead to a 'catastrophic' path to 2.70C of warming, with a 16% increase in GHG emissions by 2030 at the current pace. The UN Chief warned we are in a “Code Red for Humanity”.

COP26 is therefore a critical international event. We want to see national governments put forward more ambitious targets and, more importantly, to state the actions they are taking to achieve those commitments. Climate justice is instrumental in achieving the global climate goals. The G20 countries have the highest historic emissions of greenhouse gases, and so  contributed the most to climate change. 

Particularly we in the Global North have a moral responsibility to reduce our emissions much faster than the global average. To this end, we want to see an immediate end to direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuel industries at home and abroad, and a moratorium on all new fossil fuel-based projects.

We also want young people to be allowed at the negotiating table, to express our concerns and to influence the decisions made. These summits determine the kind of future our generation and future generations will have, it is only fair that our voice should be heard and incorporated in the decisions made.

We want to see significant, positive progress both on local climate initiatives and in the international negotiations hosted by the UK at COP26. Scientists have said that this decade is pivotal in driving down emissions, and the window for action is closing fast. The UK, including Northern Ireland, must lead by example, and help other nations follow suit. We can emerge with a healthier, fairer and safer society as a result.

I shall report back after COP26!