Young people from some of the countries most affected by climate breakdown have warned they are not victims but a force to be reckoned with in the run-up to a UN climate conference in Egypt.
Led by climate groups across Africa and the Middle East, hundreds of activists from countries that are the least responsible for the crisis but are experiencing the worst impacts have gathered in Tunisia to prepare for what they say will be a collective fight for justice for their countries and communities, which they will take to Cop27 next month.
They are campaigning on issues including adaptation funding and recompense for damage from countries that have been the most responsible for global heating.
At Cop26 in Glasgow, delegates promised to give a total of $350m to help the worst affected countries adapt to the climate emergency. But promises for funding have been broken in the past, and the issue of adaptation funding, along with demands for loss and damage funding to be paid to vulnerable countries by the US and Europe, is a clash point with the global south.
Maria Reyes, 20, from Mexico, attended the Tunis climate camp because her experience as a representative of the global south at Cop26 was so disappointing. She said the gathering was exclusive and member states wasted time arguing over commas, rather than tackling the issues that mattered.
“I came home after the Cop with a deep need to get involved in local resistance, because Glasgow made me lose all confidence in international politics and made me realise that the real resistance against the climate crisis comes from grassroots and indigenous communities,” she said. “I wanted to join the camp to be part of the construction of a space in which we can develop capacities and plan how we can articulate ourselves during Cop.”
Ayisha Siddiqa, 23, an activist from Pakistan, who has organised many school strikes for climate since 2019, believes in order to fight the crisis, people have to address the injustices that mean people from Middle East, Africa, Latin America and southern Asia, whose countries contributed least, are suffering the most.
“I come from a tribal community in northern Pakistan and our way of life is in extreme danger as heatwaves become more common, our glaciers melt and flash flooding wipes away entire villages. These are things we cannot adapt to, and loss of community, culture and families we can not recover from … I was very eager to attend this camp in Tunisia and build a community with people who have been doing environmental work on ground.”
Some of those who attended the camp will travel to Egypt for Cop27, in the hope that the conference will this time properly address the needs of countries least responsible for the climate emergency.
Omar Elmawi, 34, from Kenya, is a climate activist who has coordinated a campaign to stop the world’s longest heated crude oil pipeline in east Africa, which is forecast will contribute at least 700m tonnes of CO2 in the 20 years it is expected to be operational.
“Cognisant that I am one of the 3.6 billion people in the developing countries that are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis while we have done little to nothing to cause the problem, joining the camp allowed me to meet and know my fellow climate victims from other global south countries,” Elmawi said.
“My aim is to rise from the ashes to show that we are not just victims but a force to reckon with. All we have to do is move past our small differences and find unity of purpose to stop the exploitation of global south resources, including oil and fossil gas, for the wealthier nations and instead push for real solutions that provide accessible and affordable energy to the millions of people that are energy poor.”
Greenpeace, one of the organisers of the climate camp in Tunisia, has expressed its anger at revelations that Cop27 is to be sponsored by the Coca-Cola company, a major international polluter.
The government of Egypt announced last week the drinks company was to be a sponsor. In audits by Breakfree from Plastic, Coca-Cola is consistently identified as the world’s biggest plastic polluter. More than 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels.