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What climate activists from six countries want to see at COP26

Demonstrators holding placards attend the Fridays for Future march during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 5, 2021. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

Thousands of people are expected to march in Glasgow, Scotland, to push for climate action and protest the disparate impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities and countries. On Nov. 5, Fridays for Future Glasgow, a chapter of the youth-led climate organization inspired by Greta Thunberg, will lead a school strike for climate justice during the U.N. summit.

We spoke with six activists from the Philippines, Pakistan, India, Kenya, Bangladesh and Argentina, five of whom belong to a Fridays for Future chapter, about how climate change is impacting their countries and how they would define success at COP26.

How has climate change impacted you and your country?

(Video: Joy Yi/The Washington Post)

Climate change impacts every region in the world, but it disproportionately threatens lives and livelihoods in developing countries. Countries that heavily depend on agriculture or lack capacities to cope are especially vulnerable. In sub-Saharan Africa, a region where over 400 million people live on less than $1.90 a day, each flood or drought increases food insecurity by 5 to 20 percent, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

“Drought has wreaked havoc on families in northern Kenya,” said 19-year-old activist Eric Njuguna from Nairobi. “Families give away girls for marriage so that they can get dowry so they can be able to buy food.”

Low-lying countries and small island nations are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise, storms and floods. In 2020, a protracted monsoon season in Bangladesh forced millions of people to relocate. The country is already home to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

“People don’t have enough places to live, so they have to live in a slum,” said Farzana Faruk Jhumu, 22, a Bangladeshi climate activist. “And in the slum, there is a water crisis. There is no electricity.”

For many activists, meaningful climate action means climate justice, an approach that realizes the unequal burden of the climate crisis on vulnerable communities and countries that have often emitted the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have to make sure that our approach is one that leaves no one behind,” said 23-year-old activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan from the Philippines.

How would you define success at COP26?

(Video: Joy Yi/The Washington Post)

Countries must aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit Earth’s warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), activists say.

“This COP is about keeping 1.5 alive,” said Yamide Dagnet, director of climate negotiations at the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit that works with countries on environmental solutions. “Everyone has a role to play. It cannot be a zero-sum game.”

But new climate pledges are falling short. The world is on track to warm 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, the United Nations said. The world has already warmed more than 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels and has surpassed the catastrophic threshold in some areas.

Developing countries have insisted on outside money and technological support to transition to clean energy and adapt to climate change. This includes leaders from China and India, the first- and third- largest emitters in the world, who face rising energy demands in rapidly growing economies. India relies on coal to generate 70 percent of its electricity.

Activists say developed countries that became wealthy emitting greenhouse gases for the last century and a half should take on certain responsibilities, such as fulfilling financial pledges made under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

(Video: Joy Yi/The Washington Post)

Fighting climate change — investing in clean energy, climate-smart agriculture, early-warning systems and resilient infrastructure — takes money and resources that developing countries often lack.

In 2009, developed countries pledged $100 billion a year by 2020 to help vulnerable countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, but that target has not been met. Nearly $80 billion in climate finance was mobilized in 2019, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but for some that falls far short of what’s needed.

“We are going to need trillions,” said U.N. Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed at a recent Washington Post Live event.

Broken promises have fueled mistrust, activists say, and developed countries should significantly increase financial support — and make it more accessible.

“This so-called ‘plan’ to deliver funds promised many years ago is nothing but a joke!” wrote Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. “They are simply taking the developing countries for fools!”

Most public climate finance comes in the form of loans instead of grants and can push vulnerable countries into deeper debt. Some countries do not have the capacity to apply for complicated, conditional financing or to disperse funds efficiently, said Dagnet. Vulnerable island states and least developed countries (LDCs) have received the least amount of monetary aid. Nearly 70 percent of world deaths caused by climate disasters in the last 50 years were in LDCs.

Some advocates are urging developed nations to pay for loss and damages, including lost lands, lives, and livelihoods.

At COP26 on Wednesday, global financial leaders promised $130 trillion for the global economy to become a clean-energy economy, but questions remain on how the funds will be distributed.

What is it like being a climate activist in your country?

(Video: Joy Yi/The Washington Post)

These financial disparities are one of the reasons the activists we spoke with got involved in advocating for the planet. But being a climate activist in 2021 can come with tremendous risks.

In 2020, at least 227 environmental and land defenders were killed, according to open-source research and reporting by Global Witness, an environmental and humanitarian organization that has been tracking such killings annually since 2012.

The vast majority take place in developing countries “where industries operate with near impunity” and “where there are significant natural resources to exploit,” said Louis Wilson, senior communications adviser at Global Witness.

“It is very difficult to be in the front line of safeguarding the forest and biodiversity. … There has been immense deforestation and land-grabbing and displacement because of extractive developmental projects,” said Archana Soreng, a member of the Indigenous Kharia people in India. “We [Indigenous communities] are living under the threat of eviction."

Indigenous groups represent 5 percent of the world’s population and more than 30 percent of deaths recorded by Global Witness.

At COP26, activists are continuing to mobilize. They believe their voices can add public pressure. An open letter to world leaders received over 1 million signatures this week.

“I know we’re fighting for a world that’s possible,” said Tan. “A world that leaves no one behind.”

The Washington Post is not using Yusuf’s full name to protect his identity.

More on climate change

Understanding our climate: Global warming is a real phenomenon, and weather disasters are undeniably linked to it. As temperatures rise, heat waves are more often sweeping the globe — and parts of the world are becoming too hot to survive.

What can be done? The Post is tracking a variety of climate solutions, as well as the Biden administration’s actions on environmental issues. It can feel overwhelming facing the impacts of climate change, but there are ways to cope with climate anxiety.

Inventive solutions: Some people have built off-the-grid homes from trash to stand up to a changing climate. As seas rise, others are exploring how to harness marine energy.

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