Stop illegal mining, educate all children about climate change and increase finance for countries on the frontlines of the crisis.
These are among the demands of children from across the world who have come to Cop27 determined to see results in tackling a worsening crisis that they have felt compelled to address at such an early age.
“Governments should act now,” said Francisco Vera, a 13-year-old climate activist from Colombia. “Don’t be remembered as the ones who allowed this crime against life to unfold.”
A delegation of seven children from different countries arrived at Cop27 this week to join the Children and Youth Pavilion, the first-ever dedicated space for children and young people at a UN climate conference.
Francisco said he had come to reclaim the voices of children in the climate debate, a discussion that will inevitably impact future generations the most.
Three years ago Francisco founded a platform of more than 500 children in Colombia that aims to promote environmental awareness and has since become a champion for environmental and human rights in the country – and a face recognised among climate activists around the world.
Speaking to The Independent at Cop27, he said he hoped his delegation’s presence would serve as a reminder to world leaders of their responsibility to future generations as they attempt to keep the goals of the Paris Agreement alive.
“Not only because there are one or two children around, but because we have the chance to advocate for children’s rights,” he said through a translator, pointing out that he had already met the President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, and had handed him a petition with more than 5,000 signatures from Colombian children calling on the government to protect their rights.
“The climate crisis is a child’s rights crisis,” he said, speaking of the children around the world who have been forced to leave their homes in part due to the climate crisis, jeopardising their fundamental rights to sanitation, nutritious food, and education.
The teenager has faced threats in Colombia for his activism but is forging ahead with his demands for a more equitable and sustainable world.
Asked what he wanted to see achieved during the negotiations in Egypt, Francisco listed his demands: more ambition and accountability from countries most responsible for the climate crisis i.e. the global north and more finance for developing countries hit by climate-fuelled natural disasters.
Joining Francisco as part of the delegation was 13-year-old Sofia Mejia Cadavid from the Dominican Republic who had a similar message.
“Kids want space where we have the opportunity to be a part of campaigns and actions for climate change,” she said. “We’re usually ignored … it’s also our home so we have the right to fight for it.”
Back in the Dominican Republic, she said children were concerned about hurricanes destroying homes, crops and water systems and killing animals.
Sofia, who has her own television show in which she talks about environmental issues, said she wanted to see stricter laws enforced against deforestation and littering, and wanted all schools to teach children about climate change and the environment.
“Our planet is just beautiful and it’s so easy to just love it,” she said. “I want all the kids in the world to also fall in love with it so they can have this passion to fight for it since we’re really destroying our earth.”
Sofia says she believes humans still have time to address the deteriorating state of planet earth.
“I want all the kids to be part of this battle as well, not only adults.”
With them too was Melissa Obeng-Kyereh, from Ghana, who said she had had a passion for the environment for as long as she could remember. The 12-year-old spoke of how, at an early age, her class at school was taken out by a teacher to look at plants and how she remembered being struck by their beauty and the variety of colours.
She said she hoped to learn from people from other countries at Cop27 and called on world leaders to develop policies that would stop illegal mining, fly-tipping and bushfires and plant more trees.
“When floods come sometimes they build gutters right next to your house so when people are walking they just throw rubbish into the gutters so when it rains there’s no space for the water to pass into the soil so it overflows and enters your home,” she said. “They should make sure that when people are walking instead of throwing their rubbish on the floods they actually put them in the right bins, recycling bins.”
Bushfires, she said, destroyed the nutrients in the soil and animal habitats.
At the end of Cop27, Melissa said she wanted to leave Egypt knowing that decisions made in the negotiation rooms would be implemented.
“So that we can develop countries and very soon we won’t hear much about floods entering people’s homes and destroying their jobs,” she said.