Youth Climate Activists At COP26 UN Summit : Consider This from NPR Thousands of youth activists from all over the world gathered in Scotland this week for the COP26 UN climate summit. They say climate change is already transforming their countries — and that their generation has the most to lose if greater action isn't taken.

This episode contains reporting from Ari Shapiro in Glasgow, with production and editing by Mia Venkat, Noah Caldwell, and Ashley Brown.

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Young Activists At U.N. Climate Summit: 'We Are Not Drowning. We Are Fighting'

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Here in Glasgow, there's something you can't miss about the people who've come from all over the world to be part of the U.N. Climate Summit. And I'm not talking about the negotiators, the politicians, the people whose job it is to be here.





SHAPIRO: I'm talking about the thousands of folks who filled the streets chanting, whose planet, our planet.




SHAPIRO: Many of them are from the same generation as 23-year-old Brianna Fruean, one of the young activists I met here this week.

BRIANNA FRUEAN: I was telling someone earlier this week, like - they were asking, how do you know you live with a climate crisis? And I said, well, I can recall the smell of mud.

SHAPIRO: The smell of mud in her home country, Samoa.

FRUEAN: I don't know if you've ever been in, like, a storm or a flood, but when the flood drains back into the ocean, it leaves piles and piles of mud. And so I've scooped mud out of my house.

SHAPIRO: Brianna is part of a group called Pacific Climate Warriors. They represent small island nations, some of the country's most vulnerable to a warming planet. She opened the first day of the COP26 summit here in Glasgow speaking to leaders from all over the world.


FRUEAN: Pacific youth have rallied behind the cry. We are not drowning. We are fighting. This is our warrior cry to the world. We are not drowning. We are fighting.

SHAPIRO: It's a fight young people are waging from Samoa to Uganda. There, 24-year-old activist Vanessa Nakate told me the problems include extreme drought, flooding and landslides.

VANESSA NAKATE: So with the rise in global temperatures, it means that there's loss of people's funds, drying of people's crops, destruction of people's houses...


SHAPIRO: In Glasgow this week, I heard all kinds of stories like this. Young activists from around the world say climate change is already transforming their countries. And to Brianna Fruean of Samoa, it matters how we tell that story.

FRUEAN: A lot of people think my role here at COP is to come and cry, like I owe them my trauma, when I don't owe you my trauma. If I want to come here in, like, bright pink and neon colors and be like, I'm a very happy person and this is the happiness I'm trying to save, then that's what gives me the energy to be in this space.

SHAPIRO: The youth climate movement is trying to translate that energy into action. Here's a passage Vanessa Nakate of Uganda wrote in her new book "A Bigger Picture."

NAKATE: (Reading) We've seen what's happening on the ground. We have less access to resources and power, and so we feel more acutely what occurs when the little we have is taken from us - washed away in the rising waters or withering in the unrelenting sun.


SHAPIRO: CONSIDER THIS - the world's youngest generations have the most to lose to catastrophic climate change. And at the U.N. summit here in Glasgow, they've made their voices heard.

From NPR, I'm Ari Shapiro. It's Friday, November 12.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Before we talk about the future, let's talk about the present. As we are recording this in Glasgow late Friday, negotiators are in the final hours of this two-week summit trying to agree on a deal to prevent the world from heating up more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

JOHN KERRY: What's happening here is a stepping up of ambition.

SHAPIRO: Climate envoy John Kerry is the top U.S. official in these talks, and I spoke to him on Thursday, just after he announced a surprise declaration between the U.S. and China. These are the two biggest greenhouse gas-emitting countries on the planet. And he told me they've committed to working together to reduce carbon and methane gas emissions. The agreement doesn't spell out a lot of details on how they will do that, but Kerry says the engagement alone is a sign of progress.

KERRY: Does the problem get solved the day we leave Glasgow? No. But what we did with China was precisely to empower us to be able to go to where the greatest emissions are, work together and begin to accelerate the reductions.

SHAPIRO: Those reductions have a goal - 30% less methane emissions by 2030.

KERRY: That is the equivalent of taking all of the cars of the world, all of the trucks of the world, all of the airplanes of the world, all of the ships of the world down to zero. That's how big it is. That's what's on the table.


SHAPIRO: The reality is, right now, the world is not on track to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. And so the young activists I met here at COP are looking at the devastation ahead, and they're angry that leaders are not doing more to stop it.

RUTH MILLER: Being an indigenous youth at COP is extraordinarily limiting and tokenizing in a number of ways, both by a nature of being indigenous and by being youth.

SHAPIRO: Ruth Miller is 24, and she's one of nine people squeezed into a four-bedroom rental house above a corner pub. I met them at the halfway point of the summit, when they'd already spent a week in demonstrations, meetings and panel discussions. One of them said the first week felt like one long day with naps.

Ruth Miller grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. Some of her roommates here are from New Zealand or islands in the South Pacific. They're hanging out in a living room with low wooden furniture covered in mustard-colored velvet cushions, joking about some of their shared experiences as kids who grew up in native communities.


SHAPIRO: Without planning on it, they all brought different kinds of smoked fish to Scotland - salmon from Alaska, eel from New Zealand. They bond over memories of fry bread.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: There's always a version of fry bread across, like, indigenous people.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Unintelligible).


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Oh, you guys are going to hate me.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: OK. I only tried fry bread the first time, like, beginning of this year.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I know. I know. I know.

SHAPIRO: But of course, their connections go much deeper than food. When I ask if they're learning new things from each other's experiences in different parts of the world, Ruth says that's not exactly it. They come here with a shared view of how lands and waters are connected and how to care for them.

MILLER: It does seem less like, you know, learning new things and more like meeting a long lost family member that you haven't seen in quite some time.

SHAPIRO: Everyone squeezes around the dining table for a family-style meal of takeout Thai food. Twenty-three-year-old Tiana Jakicevich leads everyone in a blessing.

TIANA JAKICEVICH: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: They talk logistics for the next day's events, planning out how to get to and from the conference site.

MILLER: And tomorrow, we'll be really, really busy, so we probably need to leave quite early.

SHAPIRO: Because, I should mention, this house they rented is not in Glasgow. We're in a city called Stirling, almost an hour north of where the summit is taking place. They had to raise their own money for this trip. Staying in Glasgow was way too expensive, and that's kind of a metaphor for their experience of the conference itself. They're often on the outside looking in, trying to carve out space for their people.

MILLER: It was deeply difficult and extractive and tokenizing to be here.

SHAPIRO: Ruth Miller and Tiana Jakicevich sat down with us to talk about their shared experience here, and that includes their experience of a warming planet; from the Arctic, where Ruth is from, to the southern hemisphere, where Tiana lives.

JAKICEVICH: While Ruth's ice is melting, our seas are rising. And yeah, so we are intrinsically connected to the Earth and each other through that.

SHAPIRO: Tiana woke up in Scotland recently to news that her small town was in a state of emergency after three months' worth of rain fell in 48 hours. And she's seen slower changes, too.

JAKICEVICH: When I was little, we used to go down to the beach and collect tuatua, which is like a little shellfish. And you used to just dig in the sand for them. And every year, we kept going back. And they moved every year. And then about five years ago, we couldn't find them. So at this point in time, where we've always been able to collect tuatua from, we no longer can anymore.

SHAPIRO: That's in New Zealand. And Alaska is heating up much faster than the rest of the planet. Ruth has seen record-setting wildfires and relocations from land that her people have lived on for generations.

MILLER: But, of course, you can't relocate your grandparents' graves. You can't relocate your ancient sacred sites. You can't adapt to the places that are lost due to climate change. This past year, when I was forced to watch our sitka, our salmon, dying in our streams of heatstroke, it was heartbreaking.

SHAPIRO: That's why these activists put in the work, raise the money and risk their health to fly to Scotland during a pandemic. But now that they're here, it sometimes feels like everyone wants to put them in a box.

MILLER: Whitening our speech and whitening the way that we behave and wearing blazers and such - I mean, if we do bring our whole Indigenous selves, it gets translated as a photo opportunity in COP spaces.

SHAPIRO: How do you deal with that?

MILLER: Prayer. We bring our prayer, and we bring our spiritual fortitude. We bring our traditions, and we bring our medicines. We take care of one another.

SHAPIRO: Sometimes, they're invited to panels where they feel like organizers only want them to demonstrate victimhood, and they show up with more than stories of suffering.

MILLER: A number of us are extremely well-versed in the substantive content of particularly Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, of a number of negotiating platforms.

SHAPIRO: Article 6 is about carbon markets, a system that lets companies buy or sell credits towards a specified amount of CO2 emissions. The activists here see it as a gift to big business, a plan that endorses systems of capitalism that created these problems in the first place.

MILLER: We work in these fields as well as being youth, and yet most of what I have talked about is how difficult it is for youth to be heard. We don't even get to talk about what we would talk about if we were heard.

SHAPIRO: They'd also like to see plans to protect human rights and Indigenous rights spelled out in the text of the COP agreement. Last week, Ruth Miller says she was offered a platform where she could have raised some of these ideas. She was invited to speak at an Indigenous peoples event with Alok Sharma, the president of COP26. Then the schedule ran long and the meeting abruptly ended before she could speak. So at the house in Stirling, I ask her...

Like, what would you have said if you had been given that opportunity that you were told you would have?

MILLER: I would remind him of our Indigenous diplomats and the ways that we call in deep community.

SHAPIRO: And then she says she would have offered him a traditional song.

MILLER: My people come from volcanoes, and this song was gifted to me in a time of great need. And it is a song of deep, deep earth and of ancestors that are older than human. It is a song that reminds me of embers and the way that we tend to our fires. But what I would have reminded him of is that our embers are not ones that easily go out or fade away. The embers of our Indigenous voices, if they are neglected or ignored, they tend to start fires.

SHAPIRO: I can't promise that Alok Sharma will hear this...

MILLER: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: ...But if you would like to share that for an audience that will hear it...

MILLER: (Singing in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: That's Ruth Lchav'aya K'isen Miller. She is Native Dena'ina Athabaskan from Alaska.

MILLER: (Singing in non-English language).


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