Ghanaian girl cuts jargon, delivers message at COP27

SHARM el-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — By their very nature, UN climate negotiations are filled with scientific and diplomatic jargon.

So when 10-year-old Nakeeyat Dramani Sam spoke at a plenary session Friday to hundreds of delegates, her soft voice and direct message cut through the dryness, a reminder to negotiators and anyone listening that decisions made at climate talks can have a direct impact impact on people.

She spoke of the suffering in Ghana due to flooding and held up a sign that read: “Payment overdue.”

“I put a simple question on the table,” she said. “When can you refund us? Because the payment is overdue.”

Sam touched on a thorny issue that had been at the center of negotiations over the past two weeks at the summit called COP27, which took place in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. Many developing countries are insisting that rich countries, which have contributed most to climate change due to high greenhouse gas emissions, repay them for the damage.

In climate negotiations, the problem is referred to as ‘loss and damage’. It’s a topic that generates a wide range of opinions and nuanced battle lines. Developed countries such as the United States have resisted such calls for compensation, not wanting to be ridiculed for what could be an unlimited liability. China, another high-carbon country, supports the idea that rich countries contribute to such payments, but is unwilling to pay. On Thursday, the European Union came up with a proposal to create a loss and damage fund. While the proposal gave negotiators something specific to chew on, it likely also caused more division.

Sam’s speech had no qualms about the machinations of negotiation, but rather had the kind of frankness and freshness that is typical of children.

She told those in attendance that she had met with US climate envoy John Kerry earlier this week. Kerry had been nice, she said, and the meeting made her think about the future.

There was humor in her next sentence, though she certainly didn’t mean it.

“By the time I’m his age, God willing, it will be the end of this century,” she implied, as children often do about adults, that Kerry was old. Curry is 78.

Soon after, a powerful and direct message came.

On how scientists say the world has less than a decade to continue polluting at current rates before the effects of global warming get much worse, Sam said, “Have a heart and do the math. It’s an emergency.”

When Sam finished speaking, she received a standing ovation.

In an interview afterwards, Sam said her environmental awareness started a few years ago with a love of trees. She wrote a children’s book about trees in Ghana and has planted over 100 trees to date.

“I also call for action that every child should plant a tree,” she said, standing by her mother and aunt.

Sam said she was a poet, and when asked recited from memory a poem about climate change that ended with exhortations for rich nations to take responsibility for historic climate damage and pay for it. Children were the best people to deliver such messages to, she said, because they would be around to suffer the effects of global warming.

“We are the leaders of the future, so when we talk, people listen,” she said. “I don’t know about the adults because I’m not their age.”

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The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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