16 Mar 2019 Story Climate change

Thundering youth call on power to act now

“You are stealing our future.”

When Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg first spoke out, she was alone. On Friday, 15 March 2019, she was joined by thousands of young people around the world, as demonstrations gathered momentum in the Belgium, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and beyond.

They are speaking out and their voices are thundering: “Act now!” 

As the largest climate strikes in history gather pace around the world, hundreds of thousands of youth are uniting in their mission to send a clear message to policymakers: let us into the discussion, now.  

“Every day that passes without green action is failure, and yet we continue to look the other way,” said Thunberg to negotiators at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya in a video address broadcast at the closing plenary. The strikes will continue until youth voices are heard, she said.

Introducing her video address was 26-year-old Rebecca Freitag, Youth Delegate for Sustainable Development from Germany. “We go on the streets on Fridays to remind you of the responsibilities that you have as the decision makers of today,” she said.

“Be it coincidence or destiny I don’t know, but today is the closing day of the UN Environment Assembly and today is also the global climate strike day. There are more than 120 countries and 2,000 cities where students go on the streets—they are angry at you.

“So I’m warning you, we are 50 per cent of the world, but we are 100 per cent of the future. We are many […] I think you don’t want to make enemies with us. If you don’t want to lose our generation, then don’t negotiate without us because it’s our future, and we don’t have the time before we become the delegates in the room,” she said.

“The good news is that our generation is ready to be the adults,” she added. “This is now your time to act—I urge you to commit to the declarations you’re about to adopt. The next years will go down in history, because either we have ruined this planet, or we have filled it with life again.”

Rebecca Freitag was among the organizers of a climate march for young people in Karura Forest. Photo by Georgina Smith / UN Environment

Earlier, Freitag was among the organizers of a climate march for young people in Karura Forest. They gathered with banners to show solidarity for young people around the world with a joint message, said Freitag:

“Wake up! It’s a whole generation standing up to act, to not keep talking, and to save our future because we are very worried. Negotiations are way too slow—this is not the pace that we need right now so it’s time to include us.”

Students gathered at Karura forest in solidarity with youth striking around the world. Photo by Georgina Smith / UN Environment

Freitag was joined by Youth for Climate Kenya founder Miriam Van Den Berge, in helping to organize the forest gathering. “We are very inspired by Greta Thunberg, also we’ve seen other strikes in other countries and we’ve seen the effects of climate change here in Kenya.

“In northern Kenya there is drought and tribes are fighting each other; our coral reefs are dying and there are wild fires on Mount Kenya. We want all people in Kenya to know about this. We can all do small things—this is affecting us as well,” she said.

United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Satya Tripathi, said: “I think children are doing the right thing and standing up for their rights, and its high time that we listen. Somehow the adults are missing the writing on the wall and it takes our children to wake us up.”

Throughout the week, young people have tried to get their message through to delegates during the five-day long Environment Assembly.

United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Satya Tripathi addresses youth gathering in solidarity with climate strikes. Photo by Georgina Smith / UN Environment

The evening before the global climate march, on 14 March, a “Youth to Power” dialogue handed the stage over to five young panelists under the age of 30 to shape their message to delegates. The platform was an opportunity to bring youth together with high-level delegates.

Among them, Wang Junkai—also known as Karry Wang—a famous Chinese singer and actor with millions of followers on social media, said: “Young people have a responsibility to make the effort to push sustainability of our planet. As one person, I can’t do too much, but by leveraging the incredible potential of social media, I’ve been able to bring together people from across the world.”

Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Amina Mohammed, added: “You need to demand much more than just sitting at the table. You need to have input at those discussions that can turn into action.

“The United Nations Youth Strategy is there, but is it going to make a difference or just remain a piece of paper? Innovative activism will get your voice heard,” she said.

Young champions of the earth took to the stage to speak youth to power. Photo by Natalia Mroz / UN Environment

Closing the evening, Gator Halpern, a Young Champion of the Earth for Latin America and the Caribbean and moderator of the Young to Power dialogue, noted the lack of high-level delegates in the room, and remarked that while youth are trying engage, more adults need to step up to the discussion.

“We cannot wait another decade for youth to have a chance to get involved in environmental protection. We need to be there now.”