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Campaigners at Cop

Campaigners at Cop

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The changing face of COP’s young climate activists.

People across the world are raising awareness about the climate crisis in many different ways.

In the UK, for example, climate activism has taken a disruptive turn…

“Why does it take young people like me up on a gantry, on the M25, for you to listen?”

Just Stop Oil

But in Egypt, where this year’s UN climate change conference is being held, those kinds of tactics aren’t advisable.

Gatherings of more than a few people have been banned since Covid and getting on the wrong side of Egypt’s police can lead to a hefty prison sentence. 

For many activists attending COP27, witnessing Egypt’s authoritarian regime up close has been a shock. Here’s Luisa Neubauer, organiser for the Fridays for Future movement in Germany:

“People rightfully speak of possibly the most oppressive or the repressive Cop ever. The rules are harsh. And of course the moment we leave the COP’s ground, we are faced with a completely absurd and violent reality as young people, as women.”

Luise Neubauer

Direct action at the conference has been small-scale and short-lived. There has been nothing like the protests seen at the last COP in Glasgow, and they certainly haven’t involved blocking any roads…

“From Sharm El-Sheikh to the Pacific, climate justice is what we want! From New York to Fiji, climate justice is what we want! From New York to Fiji, climate justice is what we want!”

COP protestors

The designated space for activists is located away from the main area, a long walk in the hot sun across a busy stretch of motorway.

Catalina Santilices is a Chilean activist and the co-founder of the Latinas for Climate International Network…

“Most of us travelled for more than 55 hours to come here. So we wanna know people, we want to know other cultures, we want to know what they’re doing and learn from them to take that knowledge to our countries.”

Catalina Santilices

Activists’ participation is supposed to be a core part of COP. But the reality is a large and increasing proportion of the world’s population lives in countries where speaking up about climate change carries huge personal risk. 

At the same time, there’s a feeling that the process itself is broken. The negotiations rely on finding consensus between over 190 nations – and that’s no easy feat. 

Campaigners argue that the conference has become a talking shop for governments and businesses – what Greta Thunberg calls the “blah blah blah”. She didn’t turn up this year in protest against Egypt’s human right’s record.

But at COP27 there’s no shortage of young people with fresh ideas. 

Blocking the M25 is one option. But what are some of the other methods activists are using?

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“My activism is based on the understanding of my experience, the understanding of the actual losses of lives that cannot be paid back, the loss and damage of property, of culture, and of identity.”

Rose Kobusinge

That’s Rose Kobusinge. She’s a climate activist and student from Uganda. For her,  it’s about solutions not disruption. She says she’s concerned that joining a protest carries different risks as a young African woman living in the UK. Instead, her focus is on education.

“Recently I started an initiative called the Climate and Biodiversity Initiative, Uganda. And we are doing climate education in schools, in communities. Because mostly it’s poor, uneducated, like low literacy level communities are the ones that live, for example in flood-prone areas.”

Rose Kobusinge

Providing practical information on how to adapt to floods and drought is key for many African countries, which have contributed less than 4 per cent of global emissions. 

They were well represented at this year’s COP: the average number of delegates across all African nations was 133 – comfortably the largest in COP history.

And they’ve formed a united front; demanding compensation from rich countries for the damage already wrought by climate change.

Other activists have turned to the law. With the help of NGOs and lawyers, Luisa  sued the German government for failing to set climate targets that guaranteed a safe future for young people.

To the surprise of many, they won the case. Activists were hopeful that more would follow. But Luisa warns that it can work both ways:

“There’s also a tendency to romanticise what climate litigation can do and cannot do, because we face a court system, a law system, that was created in times when the climate crisis didn’t matter and it was created by those who tended to benefit from the climate crisis, or even caused the climate crisis.”

Luise Neubauer

For many activists, the decision to host COP27 in Egypt has underscored that fact. If people cannot organise, if there isn’t a free press; if there isn’t a space for people to get together; then coming up with solutions becomes a whole lot more difficult.


This episode was written by Barney Macintyre and mixed by Rebecca Moore.