With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to dominate international headlines at the start of this year, 2021 began with a continuation of the same uncertainty and anxiety which epitomised 2020, generating a sense that the climate crisis was being left behind by world news. Initially, coronavirus’s impact upon the climate was well documented, with activists simultaneously praising the positive impacts it has had upon reducing air and water pollution and calling for action against the onslaught of single-use plastic waste, but it is imperative that we continue to consider the climate crisis as a separate and urgent issue. Only this week, David Attenborough addressed the first UN Security Council meeting on climate and security, explaining that ‘climate change is the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced’. Attenborough’s main message – that it is now ‘too late to avoid climate change’ – reinforces UK Environment Agency’s chief executive Sir James Bevan’s statement that we have reached the ‘worst case scenario’ in terms of climate change. This is a sobering message, and extreme actions must now be taken if we are to be in with a chance of pulling ourselves back from the edge and avoiding both complete climactic and societal collapse.
Despite these distressing projections, there are many people working to mobilise society and bring about the necessary changes – many of whom are fresh out of school. Though Greta Thunberg is by far the most high-profile of the young climate activists – a household name even in houses which don’t care for the environment – many other young people are making similar progress towards changing popular opinion and behaviour towards the environment. From helping to organise the School Strike for Climate movement to attending UN summits, these teenagers have done more individually in their short lives more than the majority of their parents’ generations have put together, and it’s clear that not even a global pandemic will stop them.
- Name: Anuna de Wever
Profile: Dubbed the Belgian Greta Thunberg, de Wever has been making waves on the climate activism scene for some time now. Inspired by Thunberg, de Wever – along with fellow activists Adelaide Charlier and Kyra Gantois – organised the Belgian version of the School Strike for Climate which began in January 2019. Following the ‘Sail to COP’ boat trip in which de Wever and Charlier travelled to COP25 in Chili, stopping off at the Amazon rainforest, de Wever has been outspoken about their passion ‘to pass the mic to people in the global south‘, who are experiencing the ravaging effects of climate change first hand. In August 2020, de Wever co-authored a statement for the Guardian explaining the importance of treating climate change as a crisis, rather than just a distant problem.
Instagram: @anuna_dewever, Twitter: @AnunaDe
- Name: Loukina Tille
Profile: Tille has been an active member of the School Strikes for Climate since 2018, working on both national and international levels to raise awareness of the climate crisis. She helped to organise SMILE, a conference attended by 450 young climate activists at the University of Lausanne in 2019, and attended the World Economic Forum in 2020, as well as speaking at climate action festival It’s Time in the same year.
Instagram and Twitter: @loukinatille
- Name: Luisa Neubauer
Profile: Neubauer has been a youth ambassador for the ONE Campaign since 2016. Involved in other organisations including 350.org, The Hunger Project, and Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations, Neubauer is perhaps best known for her role in organising the German School Strikes for Climate. Coming from a family sensible to the implications of climate change – her grandmother was involved in anti-nuclear protests and taught her about the climate crisis – Neubauer studied Geography at the University of Gottingen. In 2018, she joined forced with the ‘Divest! Withdraw your money!’ campaign to force the university to divest from companies producing coal, oil, and gas, making it the second German university to do so.
Istagram: @luisaneubauer, Twitter: @Luisamneubauer
- Name: Vanessa Nakate
Profile: Nakate began her journey in climate activism in 2018 after becoming increasingly concerned about rising temperatures in Uganda. Aware of the devastating impacts climate change would have upon her community – largely a farming one – Nakate began solo climate strikes outside the Ugandan Parliament in 2019 and has since founded the YOUTH for Future Africa organisation, Rise-Up Movement, and the Green Schools Movement. She has spoken at COP25 in 2019 and teamed up with other activists to write a letter asking the World Economic Forum to stop investing in fossil fuels in January 2020.
Instagram: @vanessanakate1, Twitter: @vanessa_vash
- Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
Profile: It is no surprise that Martinez has become one of the most vocal members of the youth movement to protect the climate: his mother is a co-founder and executive director of the Earth Guardians project, and his father a descendent of the Aztecs, passing on his tradition of human connection to the natural world to Martinez. Giving his first climate-focused speech at just six year old, in 2015, Martinez spoke before the UN General Assembly on climate change on environmental policy and has delivered three TED talks on the subject. Now Youth Director of Earth Guardians, Martinez uses his platform as a hip-hop artist to raise awareness about environmental issues and has published two books on the topic.
Instagram and Twitter: @xiuhtezcatl