No Greta, but young activists vocal at COP27

The world's most famous youth climate activist skipped the recent COP27 United Nations-led climate conference, calling it an exercise in "greenwashing," but other young campaigners were more vocal than ever. In Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh, they urged world leaders, especially from the wealthiest countries, to compensate for "loss and damage."

Youths gather without Greta

Protests by young activists are traditionally part of the UN climate conference. This year, though, the person often at the forefront of the protests, Greta Thunberg, decided not to attend the event.

"Fridays for Future" members marked a zone with yellow tape in the designated area to underline the restrictions.

The Egyptian government effectively bans protests, which is one of the reasons Thunberg opted out. Despite restrictions, youth from around the world used the opportunity to speak out. They gathered at a government-designated protest zone to press the delegates to take action, and to voice criticism of local leaders.

Luisa Neubauer(right) with Ugandan activist, Vanessa Nakate(left)

German activist Luisa Neubauer, 26, was one of those who went. Along with Thunberg, she was one of the most prominent members of the school-strike movement dubbed "Fridays for Future." She was also named one of the "next 100 leaders" by Time magazine this year.

"What we really need to see right now is a global effort to avert the most dangerous crisis of all, which is the climate crisis," said Neubauer.

She called previous editions of the global event "hugely unsuccessful," but she wanted to keep up the pressure on leaders from the so-called "Global North" to radically reduce their emissions and compensate for the damage that climate change is doing to poorer countries.

"The climate crisis is the great injustice of this century," she said. " And those who are affected the most are the least responsible for creating this crisis."

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Hot topics at COP27

Deadly floods in Pakistan, unprecedented droughts in Africa, fierce hurricanes in the US, and massive heatwaves across the globe are just some of the severe natural disasters that have hit the planet this year.

And the people worst hit are in what is known as the "Global South." That term has been used a great deal at this year's conference to refer to the world's less-advantaged communities such as women, children, and indigenous peoples in emerging nations, as well as the poor in developed countries.

Tonny Nowshin, a Bangladeshi academic and activist based in Germany, says the term is more nuanced than terminology they used to employ. She says it is preferable to descriptions such as Third World country and poor or underdeveloped nation, explaining, "It's an issue of injustice, who should take responsibility and pay for those who are impacted. It's the central concept of climate justice."

The phrase "loss and damage" was also more prominent than ever this year. Activists say richer countries disproportionately drive the climate crisis, but less wealthy nations bear the brunt of it, and should be compensated. Richer nations have traditionally avoided discussing payouts, but funding for loss and damage was on the agenda for the first time since the talks began decades ago.

Neubauer and many other young campaigners stood outside the conference center holding banners that urged the delegates to address "loss and damage" and "listen to the science."

Youth participants from the Global South

Mana Omar, a 27-year-old from a nomadic community in Kenya, was among them. Her community is suffering from the worst drought in four decades, putting millions at risk of starvation.

Mana Omar is from a pastoralist community in Kenya

"It is extremely devastating, as our community is heavily dependent on livestock for economic activities," she says.

Omar explained that a lot of livestock is dying. She also said the impact on children is immense, especially girls. Parents find themselves unable to afford school fees, and when the situation becomes desperate, some girls are being offered for marriage at a very young age.

When people in her community do gain access to water, it may be unhygienic, causing health problems.

"People who are most responsible for the climate crisis are the ones at the table of discussions, and are the ones negotiating," she says. "But they don't know what the effects of the climate crisis looks like, they have not lived through this experience. I want to show them the real evidence of climate change."

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Archana Soreng, a 27-year-old from an indigenous group in India, echoes that sentiment. "I truly believe that indigenous people, local communities and young people should be the leaders of climate action, not victims of climate crisis," she says.

Soreng was at the conference as a member of the United Nation's youth advisory group on climate change.

Archana Soreng (bottom right) with United Nation's Secretary General Antonio Guterres and other activists

"My community is affected through extreme heat waves, through cyclones, through unpredicted and unseasonal rainfall," she says. "It damages the agriculture. It damages the forest-based livelihood which is the major source of our income. That puts us in a vicious circle of debt, pushing us towards migration, and it also leads to a loss of our livelihood, culture, tradition and language."

Soreng said she was pleased to see "loss and damage" financing being discussed for the first time. But she also called on world leaders to ensure transparency when discussing the issue.

"I want to see how the entire process [reaches all the] communities on the ground, because we often see […] language barriers and different challenges in terms of accessibility. There is also a lack of information being provided. So I really want to see […] transparency, accountability and more information given to the community […] so that communities in need can reach out."

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Mohab Sherif, a 17-year-old Egyptian, worked day and night to prepare the first ever "Children and Youth Pavilion" for the climate conference. He said it was significant that the conference was taking place in Africa, since that is the continent most vulnerable to climate change.

Mohab Sherif says COP27 is a starting point for him as a climate activist

"We have to make sure that African voices and Global South voices are being represented," he says. "Attending COP27 is a starting point for me, but there is a lot of work to do to make sure that justice is delivered throughout the coming years before it's too late."

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We need to take action now

UN says millions of people face starvation in "horn of Africa" because of the unprecedented drought

New figures from the UN show just how critical the situation is. Shortly before the start of COP27, it said the emissions reductions pledges agreed to date put the planet on course for a temperature rise of 2.8 degrees Celsius this century. The temperature increase must be well below 2 degrees to limit catastrophic damage, preferably to 1.5 degrees.

Another report, this one by UNICEF, says more than 500 million children are currently exposed to heatwaves on a frequent basis. It estimates that by 2050, all of the world's 2 billion children will be exposed to regularly occurring heatwaves, even if we can limit that temperature increase to just 1.7 degrees.

Just as the Global South faces the harshest impacts from climate change in the present day, young people everywhere will have to grapple with even more severe crises in the future. As those with the most at stake, younger people's calls for more to be done should be heeded by those making crucial decisions here and now.