Dubai: Meet activists as young as 13 who marched for climate action at COP28

They had one goal in mind: Register their strongest voice to fight climate change

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Angel Tesorero

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Jakob Sande Haugset in the foreground, wearing floral shirt. Photos & Videos: Angel Tesorero
Jakob Sande Haugset in the foreground, wearing floral shirt. Photos & Videos: Angel Tesorero

Published: Fri 15 Dec 2023, 5:50 PM

Last updated: Sat 16 Dec 2023, 10:30 AM

They came from different parts of the world — from Mexico to the Philippines, aged between 13 and 25 years — and met during COP28 in Dubai with one goal in mind: Register their strongest voice to fight climate change.

While state negotiators were debating the final text of the 'UAE Consensus' on climate change to keep the 1.5 degree C goal within reach, more than 100 young climate activists were outside the plenary session – holding their ground and calling for accelerated climate action.

Their courage and audacity were anchored on their demand to avert the worst effects of climate change and aspiration to chart a path towards a sustainable future. They delivered passionate speeches, chanted and sang: “Hey, hey, ho ho! Fossil fuel has to go!”; “When the water gets high/When the floods roll in/When the people rise and you hear us sing: it’s the end of fossil fuels.”

Khaleej Times spoke to some of them — read their stories and know what they are fighting for:

Not noisemakers, but policymakers too

Meet Maria Reyes, 21, from Mexico. She said: “We are not just loud young people.

Maria Reyes.
Maria Reyes.

We came here (UN Climate Summit) not as noise makers, but as policymakers too. We came with a proposal calling for equitable fossil fuel phaseout.”

Coming from a working class family who lives in a Puebla in Mexico, Maria had experienced the worst effects of climate change. She was six years when a water crisis hit her own village. “I got sick drinking polluted water,” she said.

Living in a condition where natural resources were being depleted, it was only natural for Maria to be politicised. She said: “Water scarcity is an intersectional issue that we can connect to the exploitation of our environment. Big multi-national and trans-national companies have been abusing our resources, and it is the same with the big polluters – they do not mind destroying our environment.

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Maria, who is a also a member of the Fridays for Future collective (a youth-led global climate strike movement started by Greta Thunberg) became an activist at 16. Working with Indigenous peoples in Mexico plus her own personal experience, led her to a path of organising at the grassroots level and bringing their voices to global attention.

The recently-concluded UN Climate Summit in Dubai was Maria’s third COP. “We simply cannot leave our future to the men and women in suits. We ourselves have to bring it to the fore – that’s why we came here,” she said: adding: “En tiempos de crisis, nos alzamos por la Tierra (translated in English as ‘In times of crisis, we rise up for mother Earth’)

Children rights crisis

For Jakob Sande Haugset, 13, taking a leave from school and attending a protest at COP28 was worth it.

As one of the youngest climate activists from Norway, Jakob said climate crisis is a child rights crisis, explaining: “Children are most vulnerable to climate change because of the threats of hunger, diseases, extreme weather conditions, and interrupted education.”

He shared his personal interaction with a young girl from south Sudan who was not able to go to school because of almost permanent flooding in her country. “It was really heartbreaking. Her education was not only affected but climate change also pushed more economic hardship and food insecurity,” he added.

Lovisa Kvaal and Amalie Eikeland Holmefjord with Jakob Sande Haugset.
Lovisa Kvaal and Amalie Eikeland Holmefjord with Jakob Sande Haugset.

Joined by his young compatriots, Lovisa Kvaal and Amalie Eikeland Holmefjord, Jakob said there is a growing pressure for their Norwegian government to scale back its global fossil fuel expansion plans. “We came to COP28 with concrete suggestions collected from Norwegian children on climate and their future,” he added.

Positive outcome

The devastating flooding in Pakistan in 2022 that killed about 2,000 people and rendered over 2 million people homeless is still in the mind of 24-year old Pakistani-American Ayisha Siddiqa, who works as a youth adviser to the UN secretary-general.

Ayisha Siddiqa.
Ayisha Siddiqa.

“According to reports, almost one-third of my country was underwater and the causes of the floods — unusual monsoon rains, melting glaciers, followed severe heat wave — were all linked to climate change,” said Ayisha.

“COP is a platform for us – from the Global South – to make our voices heard. And that is why we are calling for real and urgent climate action,” she added, noting that a positive outcome came out of the climate summit with the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund aimed at supporting vulnerable communities.

Walk the talk

Living green is a practice that has been instilled in Alab Mirasol Ayroso’s lifestyle by her parents. The 23-year-old Filipina activist who works for Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (the counterpart of Fridays for Future in the Philippines) comes from a family of activists.

She said: “I have travelled to Egypt for COP27 and now to Dubai for COP28. Both times, my mission was to bring the local campaigns from the grass-root communities we work with in the Philippines to an international audience and to put pressure to world leaders to choose people and planet.”

“Millions of children and youth worldwide are at high risk from the impacts of climate change. That is why we have made our voices heard at COPs, and we have been successful so far in translating our climate action into policymaking,” said Alab, adding: “But we will still remain vigilant in pressuring the Parties to walk the talk and demand justice for the climate from corporations and governments who have contributed the most to the degradation of the environment.”

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