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Youth climate protest at COP26

Youth activists protest against climate inaction on the sidelines of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland on November 5, 2021. (Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

Petition From 14 Youth Leaders Says UN Must 'Declare a Systemwide Climate Emergency'

"The climate emergency—which threatens every person on the planet into the foreseeable future—is at least as serious a threat as a global pandemic and similarly requires urgent international action."

Jake Johnson

A group of 14 youth climate leaders including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg filed a legal petition on Wednesday imploring the United Nations to "declare a systemwide climate emergency," a push that came amid growing anger over the milquetoast pledges emerging from the COP26 summit.

"The United Nations connects the entire world together, and we need global action on the climate crisis."

"The climate emergency—which threatens every person on the planet into the foreseeable future—is at least as serious a threat as a global pandemic and similarly requires urgent international action," reads the petition, which was also signed by U.S. climate activist Alexandria Villaseñor, Ridhima Pandey of India, and Ranton Anjain and Litokne Kabua of the Marshall Islands.

The petition specifically urges U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres—who for years has warned that climate change poses an "existential threat" to humanity—and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) to deem the planetary crisis a "Level 3 Emergency." On its website, the IASC notes that Level 3 protocols are designed to "activate the necessary operational capacities and resources to respond to critical humanitarian needs on the ground."

"The countries that emit the least face the greatest risks," the youth leaders' filing notes. "UNICEF has identified 33 countries as 'extremely high risk' for children due to threats from climate change. Those countries contain half the world's children but are collectively responsible for only 9% of CO2 emissions. The 10 highest-emitting countries account for nearly 70% of global emissions, but only one, India, is ranked as 'extremely high-risk.'"

The new petition comes just a month after the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child refused to hear a case submitted by many of the same youth activists behind the latest filing. The failed petition argued that countries are "violating their rights to life, health, and culture" by failing to curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

"I have no doubt this judgment will haunt the Committee in the future," Villaseñor, a 16-year-old climate activist, said in a statement last month. "When the climate disasters are even more severe than they are now, the committee will severely regret not doing the right thing when they had the chance."

Speaking to Earther on Wednesday, Villaseñor expressed hope that the new petition will send "a message of urgency" to the U.N. and world leaders, who youth activists have accused of imperiling future generations with persistent inaction amid the worsening climate crisis.

The Guardian reported that the U.N. "has already seen a draft" of the youth climate leaders' latest filing and that "a Level 3 Emergency is under discussion, but a spokesperson for the secretary-general's office declined to comment on whether it may be implemented."

"We have had 26 COPs that have been failures," Villaseñor said Wednesday. "Right now is the time to take action, and we need to do that urgently. It's young people and youth who are continuously reminding those in power that we need to do something right now, and this petition is an important way to do that."

"The United Nations connects the entire world together, and we need global action on the climate crisis,” she added. "In order to show great leadership, they have to declare a climate emergency."

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