Philippine Daily Inquirer - - NEWS FEATURES - By Jhes­set O. Enano @Jhes­setE­nanoINQ

KATOWICE, POLAND— At ground zero of the cru­cial United Na­tions cli­mate talks, Greta Thun­berg was eas­ily a stand­out in this south­ern Pol­ish city.

With her blonde hair braided in two long pig­tails, she walked along the cor­ri­dors of the mas­sive Spodek arena, the venue for the 24th Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties (COP24) of the UN Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change (UNFCCC).

The Swedish girl was no taller than the shoul­ders of the cli­mate ne­go­tia­tors and cam­paign­ers, many of whom stopped for a quick chat with her.

Thun­berg is only 15 and she feels she is ex­actly where she needed to be: at the heart of the cli­mate con­ver­sa­tion.

On one Fri­day in Au­gust, the ninth-grader from Stock­holm rocked her gov­ern­ment af­ter she de­cided to skip school to stand out­side the Swedish Par­lia­ment, de­mand­ing that Swe­den must act on cli­mate change.

That solo picket be­came a weekly Fri­day demon­stra­tion where she was joined by other Swedish cit­i­zens un­til the move­ment she in­spired later spread like wild­fire to other coun­tries. In Aus­tralia and Ger­many, chil­dren also went on strike, de­mand­ing ac­tions to stop cli­mate change.

Young peo­ple are try­ing to raise a sim­ple call above the ca­coph­ony of voices at COP24— Lis­ten to us!

Show of sol­i­dar­ity

Out­side closed doors where most ne­go­ti­a­tions take place, the young ac­tivists are show­ing sol­i­dar­ity amid the cri­sis that threat­ens their shared fu­ture. They are the faces of the ur­gent need to stop cli­mate change now.

Af­ter all, sci­ence has al­ready shown that by the time many of them reach their 40s, mil­lions of peo­ple would have been driven to ex­treme poverty and dis­placed by ever stronger storms and harsher droughts un­leashed by the rapidly warm­ing planet.

Do­ing her share in help­ing stop global warm­ing, caused in large part by green­house gas emis­sions, she trav­eled over 1,000 kilo­me­ters from Stock­holm to the coal min­ing city of Katowice with her fa­ther, Svante, on their elec­tric car.

For Thun­berg, tak­ing charge of her fu­ture was a black-and­white is­sue.

“This is the most im­por­tant ques­tion hu­man­ity has ever faced. What we do now is es­sen­tial for how the fu­ture will turn out,” she said in an in­ter­view with the Inquirer. “I thought no one was do­ing any­thing and noth­ing was hap­pen­ing. And I guess I have to do some­thing.”

‘Road to mad­ness’

At a meet­ing with UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res and UNFCCC Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary Pa­tri­cia Espinosa, she made a strong case for her gen­er­a­tion: “We are fac­ing an ex­is­ten­tial threat and there is no time to con­tinue this road to mad­ness.”

Ev­ery Fri­day since Au­gust, Thun­berg skipped school to ed­u­cate the peo­ple who joined her out­side the Swedish gov­ern­ment build­ing about the cli­mate cri­sis.

Her own par­ents and other peo­ple did not like her Fri­day ral­lies.

“My par­ents don’t sup­port me skip­ping school, but they un­der­stand why I am do­ing it,” she said.

For the past few years, she has in­volved them in her fight. For in­stance, the fam­ily had de­cided not to travel by plane, which pro­duces huge car­bon emis­sions, and in­stead take their elec­tric car or bi­cy­cles to go around the city or across the coun­try.

Aside from Thun­berg, many other young peo­ple are mak­ing their stand at COP24, be­yond for­mal ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Joanna Flisowska, a na­tive of Katowice, be­gan her cli­mate ac­tivism when she was 16 years old. To­day, 12 years on, she serves as the coal pol­icy co­or­di­na­tor for Cli­mate Ac­tion Net­work-Europe.

As a Pol­ish ci­ti­zen, her work to shift away from coal and fos­sil fu­els can run against many tra­di­tions in her coun­try, whose growth has been fu­eled by the coal min­ing in­dus­try.

“Coal is some­thing that peo­ple are proud of. For many years, coal min­ing pro­vided se­cu­rity for peo­ple in Poland,” she said. “But coal has no fu­ture any­more in Poland. And now more peo­ple are wak­ing up.”

Tak­ing the lead

While the cli­mate move­ment is not yet very strong in her own coun­try, Flisowska is en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple around the world to take the lead in en­gag­ing their gov­ern­ments to en­sure they have a fu­ture ahead of them.

“Some­times, de­ci­sion-mak­ers for­get about it. They feel 2050 is so far away and they may not be there any­more,” she said.

“It is im­por­tant for some­one to re­mind them that it is not that far away … It is im­por­tant for them to see the faces of the peo­ple whose fu­ture they are de­cid­ing on.”

Filipino-Amer­i­can ac­tivist Kristy Drut­man, who works with the youth-led sus­tain­abil­ity group Sus­tainUS based in the United States, said that young peo­ple should take ad­van­tage of the tech­nol­ogy and tools they have to share their sto­ries.

The 23-year-old is ac­tive on so­cial me­dia, en­gag­ing other youths who are also af­fected by cli­mate change and ris­ing to the chal­lenge of fight­ing for the planet.

“This is an is­sue that con­cerns young peo­ple and we should hold re­spon­si­ble the adults who caused this to hap­pen,” she said. “Young peo­ple have a role to play in this, be­cause for us, this is per­sonal.”

Drut­man said the youth’s di­verse nar­ra­tives about how their lives were go­ing to be im­pacted by their gov­ern­ments’ in­ac­tion could spell the change in their present and their fu­ture.

As cli­mate ne­go­tia­tors scram­ble to fin­ish the rule book for the Paris Agree­ment, par­tic­u­larly in lim­it­ing the rise in global tem­per­a­ture to just 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius, young ac­tivists like Thun­berg, Flisowska and Drut­man are look­ing at more chal­lenges ahead.

“You are never too small to make a dif­fer­ence,” Thun­berg said.

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