'If nothing's done, we have to clean up the mess': Youth push climate action in Paris


The number of youth activists attending climate change conferences has grown year on year. And their voices can no longer be ignored.

When Bali hosted the UN Climate Change Conference in 2007, about 200 youth delegates attended the inaugural Youth Conference that preceded it.

That number grew to 1,500 in Copenhagen in 2009, and six years later about 5,000 have ventured to Paris to attend the climate change summit.

Jaden Harris, 20, is among five Australians accredited for COP21. He also attended the youth conference where he met thousands of other like minded people from around the world.

"Young people have a lot at stake when it comes to climate change. And although the impacts are already being felt right now, if we don't do anything about it, we're going to be the generation who's left to clean up mess in decades to come," said the Australian Youth Climate Coalition member.

"But on the other side, we're also the people who will be around to embrace the opportunities that the new clean energy future can provide and the tens of thousands of clean and safe jobs that we'll have and the fairer and more just society that we can create."

Though Jaden advocates for 100 per cent renewable energy, and has criticised Australia's targets as being "back of the pack", there has been some positive progress.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt signed the Australian Youth Climate Coalition's pledge to "do what it takes to ensure the survival of all countries and peoples".

And that's a pledge Indigenous Australian, Paul Gorrie hopes Mr Hunt stands by. The 24-year-old Gunaikurnai man is in Paris to protect the rights of his ancestors. He said their lands have already felt the effects of climate change and been destroyed by Australia's coal mines.

"Our main concern is that we're not being consulted, or allowed in these conversations, on what happens on Aboriginal land," he said.

"Because we were the first scientists, and we have been looking after land for 60,000 years sustainably, and we plan to do that for the next 60,000 years."

Maori New Zealander India Logan Riley is also concerned about native land being destroyed and the inability of her community to adapt to changing landscapes.

"It's going to happen, it's a reality," she said. "A lot of sacred sites are going to disappear as well. so it's quite important that action is taken immediately."

"I'm scared, really, for what' going to happen to my communities, and to my younger siblings as well."

The vast beauty of Nepal isn't immune either.

Twenty-year-old activist Sagar Aryal founded youth global movement the Sano Sansar Initiative when he realised government action wasn't going far enough.

He doesn't want the youth left behind and has called for climate justice.

"When I was 10 years old when I was a child I lived in the mountains and realised that all these mountains, they're losing the snow because of our human actions and thought that we should have more education on climate crisis and inspire people to reduce their emissions," he said.

Sagar also has an ambition plan to reduce the world's carbon footprint.

"The thousand billion trees that we're going to plant are not going to solve the climate crisis but they will help us mitigate one fourth of the emissions that humans beings produce every single year," he said.

"We're going to create a time buffer - it's giving us more time, so we can go to zero emissions by 2050." 

Progress on the climate text

A draft review of the climate text is now four pages shorter. But there's still some way to go before concrete decisions are made.

"I think it comes down to two things," explained Jennifer Morgan, the Global Director of the Climate Program of the World Resources.

"Number one is whether there will be a clear signal and a turning point that the world is shifting to clean energy, bringing down emissions or not.

"And number two, the money. Who is going to pay for the most vulnerable countries to deal with the impacts from climate change that are already happening and are going to get worse?"

While several nations - particularly the Pacific Islands - are pushing for a 1.5 degree target, many large developing countries are reluctant, as well as some big powers.

Australian delegates are doing what they can to act as a broker for our regional neighbours. It's aiming for a 2 degree goal, with a reference to 1.5 in the text.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt will leave Paris on Monday, after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop arrives for further negotiations.

Sarah Abo’s trip to Paris was supported by the World Meteorological Organisation.

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