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Young climate activists during a press briefing held on December 9, 2019 at the COP25 in Madrid, Spain.

Climate crisis is environmental 'apartheid,' says youth activist

The UN Climate Change Conference taking place at the Feria de Madrid in Spain, continued its second week with climate change negotiations going into wee hours of the next day.

Heads of state and government, ministers and heads of delegations made their national statements during the high-level segment.

As the time approached 11.30am, there was a long queue of members of the press at the Mocha Room. One would be forgiven for thinking that all the pushing and shoving was for one to be the first to get the best cup of Mocha coffee to warm themselves in the freezing temperature.

But Mocha Room is one of the press briefing rooms at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 25th Conference of Parties (COP25).

What followed was heavy security around the room. Many still fought to catch a glimpse of who the distinguished person being escorted by such security personnel was. This was Greta Thunberg, the young girl who has become the global face of climate change activism.

Soon after Greta took to the microphone, the disappointment in the room was apparent. Greta decided she would not speak about herself. She said that she has had enough of speaking and media attention—for which she was grateful.

“We have noticed that there is some media attention around us. We thought we could use that attention to render our platform to those whose voices also need to be heard. Our stories have been told and listened to for a long time. It is not our stories that need to be told and listened to—it is the others."

“It is the people, especially those from the global South. Climate change is not something that will impact us in the future, people are dying from it today. We want to use this platform to share the stories that need to be told and heard,” Greta said.

With that, she handed over the microphone to fellow youth activists. One by one they told stories of their suffering due to severe climate effects. They spoke of the hopelessness of their people and the possibility of their doomed future and diminishing dreams.

Hilda Flavia Nakabuye from Uganda (3rd from left)

One youth that caught the attention of the roving cameras and their flashing lights was Hilda Flavia Nakabuye from Uganda. Hilda reckons that the laissez-faire approach to the climate crisis by world leaders is a sure sign that they do not care about the future generation.

A visibly upset Hilda narrated how Africa has been ravaged by extreme weather events caused by climate change. She equated the climate crisis in Africa to racism and apartheid that her ancestors endured.

“We are suffering severe effects of climate change as if coming from the global South is a mortal sin with no or very little action from developed countries. I have come to think that climate crisis is another form of environmental racism and apartheid,” she said, adding that the actions, words and greed by those in power are leaving “deep cuts and scars to our unborn children in the coming generation.”

She, therefore, called on developed countries to exercise their moral duty and clean up their mess.

“How many more lives must we lose for the world to take action?  Which type of storm or what flavour of floods must Africa taste for us to get climate justice? How many more classes must we skip for the world to know that we are suffering the most? Developed countries must be ashamed of themselves given the amount of carbon they emit compared to what Africa is emitting. We emit almost nothing but we are suffering the most,” she said.

Hilda had some strong words against the fossil fuel industries who she said are turning the dreams of many African children into nightmares.

“You have dreams, but we have dreams too. But these dreams have turned into nightmares, nightmares of our future which is being negotiated by world leaders without our say—the same way it is being destroyed by fossil fuel industries funding and present at the COP even as I speak right now,” she said.

She called for concerted efforts and concrete action to stop the climate crisis.