TORONTO — At the United Nations Youth Climate Summit, Larissa Parker faced the same frustrating obstacle she’s encountered for nearly a decade as an activist — young people’s ideas to tackle climate change seem to not be taken seriously by policymakers.
“The intergenerational divide in climate policy is still a big one that we need to fill,” Parker told HuffPost Canada after attending the summit at UN headquarters in New York City Saturday.
Drawing together 700 youth activists, including Greta Thunberg, innovators and entrepreneurs, the summit was a first for the UN, and a way to kickoff the main event, the Climate Action Summit with world leaders on Monday, according to the website.
Watch: Climate change activists create gridlock in Washington, D.C. Story continues below.
“It was awesome to be apart of that space,” Parker said. She had the opportunity to participate in workshops with government officials and share the urgency of more aggressive action on climate change. She pointed to the need to create ways to hold governments accountable, and include young people, especially from Indigenous communities and lower-income countries, in policymaking.
But at the same time, “There was a deep worry among young people about where our contributions are going and whether we were having an impact,” said Parker.
She said the majority of seats on the council floor were filled by government officials and representatives of UN organizations and big companies, like Microsoft and Google. Many youth participants, including Parker, had to sit in the balcony or in a separate overflow room for at least part of the conference.
It would’ve been more meaningful if they were part of the main Climate Action Summit so “young people’s voices make it all the way to the top throughout discussions,” she said.
The purpose of Monday’s summit is for governments and businesses to increase their Paris Agreement commitments and come up with concrete ways to cut emissions and adapt to climate change, the UN said in a statement. The world would need to triple or quadruple efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C.
Thunberg, a 16-year-old activist from Sweden, accused world leaders on Monday of ignoring climate change.
“I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” Thunberg said.
“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”
Parker has nearly a decade of experience as a climate change activist, attending UN climate conferences as a youth delegate, and marching in climate strikes earlier this year. She recently wrote an essay for an international contest about the need for decision-makers to overcome the “not-in-my-lifetime” phenomenon, describing how people don’t take climate change seriously because they don’t believe it’s going to happen while they’re alive.
“I have watched governments around the world put short-term economic gain before the long-term well-being of the planet and my generation,” Parker wrote.
She won The Economist’s Open Future competition, beating out roughly 2,400 other entries, and was invited to participate in the Youth Climate Summit.
In her article, Parker proposed giving future generations legal standing so lawsuits could be filed on their behalf against governments and corporations. It’s one possible way to hold decision-makers accountable for harming the environment and push them to take more aggressive actions to curb climate change.
“I don’t think the current government is doing enough,” Parker said of Canada. “I don’t think anyone is doing enough.”
Parker was at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris when Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced Canada would commit to halting global warming at 1.5 C by reducing emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels. Four years later, Canada is unlikely to meet its greenhouse gas reduction target. From 2016 to 2017, greenhouse gas emissions actually increased.
“None of their policy decisions amount to that,” Parker said. “The tweeting is not enough. Having politicians listening and responding would be great. Seeing actual results and reductions would also be great.”