Children from the South make themselves heard at the climate summit

(Updates with last month’s survey of children in 15 countries, added to byline)

By Gloria Dickie and Mai ShamsElDin

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Nov 16 (Reuters) – Life-year-old Indian climate activist Licypriya Kangujam’s dogged interrogation of British Climate Minister Zac Goldsmith about the fate of climate activists detained in his country was one of the most notable moments in the COP27 talks on global warming so far.

“We have to hold lawmakers accountable for their political decisions,” she later told Reuters.

Among the throngs of men and women in business attire at the United Nations’ COP27 climate summit in Egypt this week are children who have traveled from around the world to demand adult leaders take action to protect their futures. They may be small, but their voice was one of the loudest in the climate movement.

“Many children will lose their bright future,” said Kangujam. “My generation is already a victim of the climate crisis. I don’t want more future generations to face the same consequences.”

Footage showed Goldsmith smiling incredulously when she told him how old she was, then walking away, pursued by the young activist until he found an exit from the conference building.

Kangujam was born in 2011, two years after richer countries first agreed plans to funnel up to $100 billion a year to poorer countries by 2020.

Countries like India have suffered in the meantime. In 2018 and 2019, the state of Odisha, where Kangujam lived, was devastated by climate-driven cyclones Titli and Fani.

Soon after, Kangujam moved to New Delhi where her “life was completely messed up due to high air pollution and heat wave crisis,” she said.

Today, Kangujam is the founder of the children’s movement fighting for climate justice. Her involvement follows prominent youth activist Greta Thunberg, now 19, who led school strikes in Sweden to demand action.

Thunberg stayed away from the Sharm el-Sheikh talks which she described as an opportunity for “greenwashing, lying and cheating” by the powerful.

EDUCATION INFLUENCE

Kangujam is not the only child at COP27 hoping that delegates at the 27th annual UN summit aimed at tackling global warming will recognize the struggles of Generations Z and Alpha, born between 1996 and 2024.

Summit organizers say children have taken on more importance, with a designated youth envoy and pavilion for children and youth at the conference.

Mustafa, a 12-year-old boy from the Upper Egyptian city of Minya on the west bank of the Nile, came to COP27 with the nonprofit Save the Children to share his experience.

“We have a lot of rain in the village during the winter,” he said. Streets turn into muddy rivers and power outages cover the city in darkness. Often, he said, he struggles to go to school.

A survey of 54,000 children by Save the Children in October found that 83% of children in 15 countries said they could see the effects of climate change, inequality, or both.

“I see climate change impacting education. When something like that happens, we don’t go to school. We can’t even study because of the power cut,” he said.

For others, heat poses a greater threat. Mariam, a 16-year-old girl from Cairo, told Reuters she struggled with heat exhaustion in the summer, when temperatures now routinely reach nearly 40 degrees Celsius.

“I’m always tired and dizzy,” she said. “Sometimes I couldn’t go to school and skipped a lot of important lessons.

Both Mustafa and Mariam said they wanted world leaders to listen to children and take action. (Reporting by Gloria Dickie and Mai Shams El-Din; additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Fanny Brodersen, editing by Deepa Babington)

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