Youth leaders at UN demand bold climate change action

World News | Published:

Greta Thunberg was among activists addressing the Youth Climate Summit.

United Nations Youth Climate Summit

Fresh from the climate strike that took hundreds of thousands of young people out of classrooms and into the streets across the world, youth leaders have gathered at the United Nations to demand radical moves to fight climate change.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who started the climate strike protest with a lone demonstration outside her country’s parliament about 18 months ago, said: “We showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable.”

More than 700 mostly young activists attended the first Youth Climate Summit, according to Luis Alfonso de Alba, the UN special climate summit envoy.

The strike across six continents and Saturday’s youth conference comes ahead of a full climate conference next week at the UN General Assembly, which has placed the issue of climate change at front and centre as world leaders gather for the annual meeting.

Activists at Saturday’s gathering demanded money for a fund to help poorer nations adapt to a warming world and provide greener energy.

They also insisted that the world should wean itself quickly from coal, oil and gas, which causes climate change.

Argentine climate activist Bruno Rodriguez said: “Stop the criminal contaminant behaviour of big corporations.


“Enough is enough. We don’t want fossil fuels any more.”

United Nations Youth Climate Summit
Ms Thunberg, walks around UN building after attending the Youth Climate Summit (AP)

Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s youth envoy, called climate change “the defining issue of our time. Millions of young people all over the world are already being affected by it”.

During Ms Thunberg’s lifetime, the Earth has already warmed 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.34C).


Fijian climate activist Komal Karishma Kumar said global warming is not just taking a toll on the planet but on her generation, especially people from vulnerable places like her Pacific island nation.

She said: “Young people from different parts of the world are living in constant fear and climate anxiety, fearing the future, the uncertainty of a healthy life or a life for their children at all.

“I do not want our future generations to submerge with our sinking islands.”

After listening to Ms Thunberg and other youth climate activists, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres credited young people with transforming him from a pessimist to an optimist in the fight against global warming.

Mr Guterres said he sees “a change in momentum” going into Monday’s Climate Action Summit taking place ahead of the UN General Assembly gathering of world leaders that starts Tuesday, telling the youths “you have started this movement”.

He added: “I encourage you to keep your initiative. Keep your mobilisation and more and more to hold my generation accountable.

“My generation has largely failed until now to preserve both justice in the world and to preserve the planet.”

Ms Kumar told Mr Guterres that “we will hold you accountable and if you do not, remember we will mobilise to vote you out”.

The youth activists brainstormed about what they could do to change the trajectory of an ever-warming planet and how they can help the world adapt to climate’s changes. There was talk of hashtags, entrepreneurial ideas and climate art and poetry.

Kenyan activist Wanjuhi Njroge said: “Be that hummingbird that puts out the forest fire by fetching water with its small beak as all the other animals, including the elephant, told her it was impossible.”

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