GLASGOW, Scotland >> The generation of young people who will inherit a warmer future is telling the generation that caused carbon pollution to clean up its mess.
But they fear that message isn’t getting through.
“It’s our future. Our future is being negotiated, and we don’t have a seat at the table,” said 20-year-old Boston College student Julia Horchos.
Young people are attending the talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in unprecedented numbers — and world leaders have credited their activism with reinvigorating negotiations aimed at avoiding catastrophic climate change.
But even among those who are inside the venue, nearly all are here as observers, like Horchos — kept outside the rooms where the real decisions are being made.
“I’m urging all leaders and decision makers to listen to the calls that are coming from young people, reflect that in the (…) negotiations and, of course, in the action taken domestically by individual governments,” said Alok Sharma, the British official chairing the talks.
Yet on a day dedicated to young involvement, the midday highlights were a speech by 73-year-old former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and a news conference by 77-year-old John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy.
Outside, tens of thousands of people, most of them under 30, made clear they fear being seen — and even celebrated — but not heard.
In her several days of going to sessions, Horchos said only one had time for members of the audience like her to talk — and that was a special youth event. Sure, Diana Bunge, a 21-year-old also from Boston College, got to hear from three CEOs of multinational corporations, and Horchos met Kerry, but they didn’t get to make their case for their future.
“When I arrived at COP26, I could only see white middle-aged men in suits,” Magali Cho Lin Wing, 17, a member of the UNICEF UK Youth Advisory Board, said at a press event. “And I thought, ‘hold on is this a climate conference or some corporate event?’ Is this what you came for? To swap business cards?”
Still, they know it’s important to be at least near the room where it all happens.
“It’s my life,” Horchos said. “Its definitely my responsibility to step up.”
Outside the negotiations, the worry was the same, but the way it expressed was different.
In Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park, mostly young activists carried banners with slogans such as “I have to clear up my mess, why don’t you clear up yours?” and “Stop climate crimes.”
The Fridays For Future protest was part of a series of demonstrations being staged around the world today and Saturday, to coincide with the talks in Scotland
Some at the rally accused negotiators of “greenwashing” their country’s failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions by trumpeting policies that sound good but won’t do enough to prevent dangerous temperature rises in the coming decades.
“We are here as civil society to send them a message that ‘enough is enough,’” said Valentina Ruas, an 18-year-old student from Brazil.
Brianna Fruean, a 23-year-old activist from Samoa, a low-lying Pacific island nation that is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and cyclones, said: “My biggest fear is losing my country.”
“I’ve seen the floods go into our homes, and I’ve scooped out the mud,” she said.
Fruean was given the stage at the beginning of the conference, known as COP26, where she told leaders about the effects of climate change already being felt in her country.
“I feel like I’m being seen,” she said. “I will know if I’ve been heard by the end of COP.”