Following the release of the UN’s landmark climate report, young activists are determined to keep up the momentum and to emphasise that all is not yet lost.

Following the release of the UN’s landmark climate report, young activists are determined to keep up the momentum and to emphasise that all is not yet lost.

Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report evaluating the state of the global climate catastrophe. Its 4,000 pages produced by hundreds of the world’s top scientists represents the IPCC’s starkest warning on climate yet, with the UN chief calling the report a “code red for humanity”. The report, signed off by all the world’s governments, concludes that there is undeniable evidence that human actions are changing our climate. The climate disaster is here and now and can’t be neglected. It’s not worth the gamble. 

Waves of environmental tragedies have been spiralling out of control, wreaking havoc on communities across the world – especially on dispossessed communities in the global south. The repeated warnings from experts, scientists and activists from generation to generation have now become a bleak reality for all.  

Across the world, the ramifications of the climate crisis are proving brutal: earlier this month, Greek wildfires forced thousands of residents to flee their homes in Athens. In late April, South Africa experienced an unbearable heat wave, resulting in the death of fruit bats and birds in northern Kwazulu-Natal. Just last week, Haiti was forced into an emergency after the country was struck by an earthquake leaving at least 304 dead.

Even though significant climate changes are inevitable and irreversible, as the IPCC findings indicate its latest finding, all is not lost. If gas-fired and coal power plants shut down in the next ten years, and if worldwide greenhouse gas emissions peak within four years and lifestyle and behaviour across the globe change – including the dismantling of measures and practices enforced by corporations under the banner of global capitalism – we can avoid the severity of climate collapse.

Another reason for optimism is the new generation of dedicated young activists, bringing in radical, transformative perspectives to challenge the very institutions that profit from degrading the earth. We speak to four young climate change activists about their opinions on the IPCC report, what world leaders can and should do, the growing youthful presence within the movement and how to sustain that momentum for the future of our planet. 

Athian Akec, 18, Camden, London, Climate change activists and advisor to APPG for Africa

 “When you look at what’s happening, the most marginalised communities are severely impacted by the climate crisis. When I look at my motherland, Africa, I see my people disproportionately affected by the state of the problem, and I couldn’t divorce that from my activism: that is why I got involved in climate change. 

“I think the report is a confirmation that the crisis is here. But when we’re talking about this report, we must be careful not to push people into inactivity. Fear is not the best motivator. Instead, we should consider priority solutions because the fight is not over. 

“What we need in the UK and across the world is a Green New Deal – it’s about a rapid investment into green infrastructure, green technology and green jobs. It’s about tackling the injustice that we see and decarbonising the economy. 

“There are moments in history where things are bad, but we always have to hold on to people that are ready to challenge the issues that we have. The youth presence will fundamentally shift everyone towards action because young people are constantly pushing us into the most transformative direction, and history proves that. 

“The key to sustaining the movement is drawing the links between the climate crisis and all the other issues people face, from systemic racism, economic inequality, gender inequality and other forms of injustice. We need to bring absolutely everyone on board, and that’s by creating a safe and inclusive movement for everyone to join with different experiences.”

Destiny Boka-Batesa, 18, Lambeth, London, Campaigner for Choked Up 

Photo by Harry Rose

“Climate change has always been something I’ve paid attention to, but it wasn’t until 2019 when the climate emergency was declared that I started getting involved in youth strikes. I quickly realised that there were so many environmental issues that weren’t being talked about, and these issues were surrounding Black and brown people. 

“The report shows us that we’re on our last leg. But it’s nothing new; it felt like it was feeding into climate doom and was quite damaging; I would have liked to see it incite people to change. Even though it’s awful, we still have time to turn things around. 

“Leaders need to start listening to the most marginalised; it’s not an individual base thing – it’s about taking down systems that cause harm and building a new, greener society.  

“I feel like the youth have a fresh new fire in their belly, and we need that more than anything. I’m proud of young people and what we’ve achieved already, and I know we’ll gain more.  

“I believe the movement can grow through intersecting our fight into as many areas as possible – building connections and real relationships, so people feel like they are truly part of the movement. We need to push for peer encouragement which would build solidarity and create space for people to deal with burnout, climate anxiety and other things.” 

Francisca Rockey, 21, Barnet, London, Climate Change Campaigner, Founder of Black Geographers

“I got involved in activism because I saw conversations online kept popping up about global warming, but no one was making the links between how distortional climate change impacts other communities, especially Sub-Saharan Africa.

“When I researched the IPCC report, it was what we’d been told in the past – just dates are getting closer. There still is hope because there is going to be another report that comes out that provides solutions called the synthesis report, due to be released in 2022 

“The government needs to move away from performative politics and adopt a more radical perspective on responding to this crisis. We have MPs who have previously and currently support the funding of fossil fuels indirectly but tweet about how significant climate change is. This shows their conflict of interest.  

“Despite the seriousness of the report, I’m very hopeful for the rise in young activists calling for climate change. I spoke to a parent recently, and they voiced how they’ll be getting their child involved in local programs and initiatives to make a change. It just shows the growth of intergenerational support, bringing about solutions. 

“We need to create space for young activists to thrive and be leaders. We don’t just need young people to be on advisory boards and trustees; they can be managers of a project and so on – and it’s about the older activists passing on their experience to the younger generation.”

Frances Fox, 20, Bath, Somerset, Climate justice activist, Found & UK Director of Climate Live

“I’ve always been very conscious of the planet, but I never realised the severity of what we’re facing until I heard Greta Thunberg’s speeches. I felt called to action.  

“My initial thoughts after seeing the new report were despair; after all this campaigning done and dedicating my life to this and still not seeing the change we need, it was a lot to take in. But I thought about what we’ve done collectively, pushing climate change up the political agenda. 

“If we want to change, political leaders must listen to the experts instead of coming up with creative solutions that don’t fix the problem but instead sustain them and their friends’ bank accounts. 

“I think it’s incredibly powerful that young people are fronting this movement because it’s our future that is being impacted. However, it’s important to caveat that by acknowledging that young people are the most at risk of environmental issues. 

“The movement can grow by engaging people through their hobbies and interests. At Climate Live, we involve people who may not attend protests through musical festivals which educate them about the climate crisis. This is the initiative we use, and I know young people can create more.” 

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