climate change

No more promises: Young climate activists demand COP28 action

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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No more promises: Young climate activists demand COP28 action

PROTEST. German climate activist Luisa Neubauer participates in a protest demanding that Germany does more to phase out fossil fuels, at the German pavilion at COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 2, 2023.

Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

'We need a commitment to stop any new fossil fuel project...and to make sure that money and capacity are being spent on going fully renewable everywhere,' says a 26-year-old German activist

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Frustrated by slow action on ending the use of planet-heating fossil fuels, young climate change activists at COP28 in Dubai have called on countries to stop financing new coal, oil, and gas projects and commit to transitioning to a clean energy future.

German activist Luisa Neubauer said that despite the scientific evidence that fossil fuels are fueling climate change, nations are still stalling on phasing them out.

Neubauer said many governments make climate change pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at annual United Nations climate summits only to fund oil and gas projects afterwards, undermining global goals to transition to net-zero emissions.

“That’s not how you will put anyone else under pressure. We need a commitment to stop any new fossil fuel project, to end the financing of any new fossil fuel project…and to make sure that money and capacity are being spent on going fully renewable everywhere,” Neubauer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The 26-year-old campaigner said hosting COP28 in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates was politically challenging and the record number of fossil fuel lobbyists and interests at the summit cast doubt on the integrity of the UAE’s leadership to deliver a deal.

The UAE COP28 president has said he is “laser-focused” on delivering an outcome that will put the world on track to rein in global warming to 1.5°C, the most ambitious limit enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Fossil fuel phaseout

An unprecedented number of fossil fuel lobbyists – about 2,450 – have been granted access to the summit where world leaders, experts, and campaigners are calling for a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels and accelerated emissions reductions to brake worsening extreme weather and rising seas.

In a report released on Wednesday, December 6, that recommends phasing out fossil fuels by 2050, scientists warned the natural world is at risk of five climatic tipping points that could lead to abrupt or irreversible change to the planet.

Climate activist Vanessa Nakate said extreme weather events such as flooding and cyclones have destroyed many homes and farms in her native Uganda, pushing more people into poverty.

Nakate said young people are growing weary of negotiations that do not result in reducing emissions and fossil fuels – the main bones of contention at successive climate change talks.

“The first thing we should do to reduce loss and damage is to stop digging up and buying new coal, oil, and gas. All of the flashy announcements about promised funding…will mean little if countries continue to expand fossil fuel development,” she said.

An early draft of the COP28 deal released on Tuesday, December 5, lists three possible action points for tackling fossil fuels: “an orderly and just phaseout,” accelerating efforts towards phasing out “unabated” fossil fuels, and a third that would avoid mentioning fossil fuels in the COP28 decision.

On “Youth Day” at the COP28 venue on Friday, December 8, a network of hundreds of youth that feeds into the UN climate talks noted in a report that young people have been demanding that their governments directly involve them in climate policy processes.

It said that while countries had been making a growing effort to respond, such as including youth in their delegations at the negotiations, “there is much progress to be made.”

Shamma Al Mazrui, COP28’s “Youth Climate Champion” and the UAE’s minister of community development, told media the role of young people in COP28 was not “tokenistic,” and the summit has focused on boosting climate education and green skills for them.

Before COP28, a statement crafted by children and youth from more than 160 countries was handed to the UAE COP28 presidency including demands for a “just, equitable, and secure transition to a fossil fuel phaseout” and more financial support to help vulnerable communities cope with the impacts of climate change.

Climate anxiety

Speaking in Dubai on Wednesday, Nakate said developed nations should increase financing for loss and damage to support hard-hit communities across Africa, which contributes a relatively small amount to global emissions, as well as funding to help the transition to cleaner energy.

Slow progress in reducing emissions is creating more anxiety among young people, who are shouldering the burden of rising levels of fossil fuel-driven pollution on their health and communities, said Omnia El Omrani, youth envoy for the Egyptian COP27 president.

“Young people feel overwhelmed and burned out due to the crushing uncertainty of inheriting a future that we did not create,” she told COP28 delegates.

Nonetheless, there were youth protests at the COP28 venue on Friday calling for an end to fossil fuels that is “fast, fair, forever” and pressing for climate justice and human rights.

Neubauer called on young campaigners to build cross-border alliances to monitor and obstruct fossil fuel operations.

“We have seen a lot of climate disasters, not just in the Global South, but even in some countries in the Global North,” Nakate said. “So we as young people have a responsibility to raise awareness about the crisis, but also to work and transform our communities.” –

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