Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

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."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

UK Accused of Giving 'Two Fingers Up' to Climate With New Oil and Gas Licenses

"By encouraging greedy fossil fuel companies to keep looking for more fossil fuels, the U.K. government is denying the reality of the climate emergency," said one campaigner.

Julia Conley ·


Naomi Klein Spotlights Perils of UN Climate Summit Hosted by Despotic Egyptian Regime

"Unless political freedoms are defended, there will be no meaningful climate action. Not in Egypt, nor anywhere else. These issues are intertwined, as are our fates."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Dangerous Moment': Record Deforestation in Amazon Shows Stakes of Brazil Election

The runoff between Bolsonaro and Lula, warned one activist, is "not just about the future of Brazil, the result will have an impact on all of humanity."

Jessica Corbett ·


Progressives Warn Fed-Induced Recession Will 'Throw Millions of Americans Out of Work'

"It takes a while for higher interest rates to have a big impact," one expert stressed, "and there's a huge concern the Fed has overshot and secured a recession in coming months."

Jake Johnson ·


At Least 13 Migrant Justice Activists Arrested Protesting Court's Anti-DACA Ruling

"We need Congress to act on citizenship now," said one protester, "so we no longer have to live in fear and can continue to prosper in this country we call home."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo