In early October in London, activists from the group Just Stop Oil threw a can of tomato soup at a Van Gogh painting and stuck their hands to the wall. “What matters more, art or the environment?” they shouted out loud. Their action generated a global media response.
“I know it seems like a bit of a ridiculous action,” explained activist Phoebe Plummer in an interview the day after the event. “But we’re not asking if everyone should be throwing soup on paintings. We’re starting a conversation so we can ask the questions that do matter.”
The action generated controversy: some activists declared it counterproductive, others labeled it as part of the frustration of young people in the face of climate change inaction. One thing that is clear is that the face of the rebellion against climate urgency in Europe is youthful and has generated the emergence of world-renowned leaders, such as Greta Thunberg, blockades in European cities and mass marches in Sweden.
In Mexico, the response to the climate emergency is fragmented, with various efforts underway but without a critical mass, according to climate activists.
“We are facing an apathetic, subdued Mexico and when we convene few, few come,” said climate activist Aurélien Guilabert at a youth event ahead of the COP27 Climate Change summit to be held in Egypt in November.
“I invite you to be activists!” he exclaimed to the small group of no more than 40 people. “We have to do shock activism because marches are not working for us. We convene and only a hundred people show up.”
At the youth event – organized at a downtown congressional headquarters – various presenters raised the same questions. “What about youth environmental demonstrations, how do we get more young people involved?”, the questions echoed over and over again.
Mexico has one of the highest rates of murders of environmental leaders in the world. Hundreds of activists, including young indigenous women and men, struggle in Mexico defending their rights to water and territory. In 2021 alone, Global Witness registered 54 deaths but the number is estimated to be higher. In this context, climate activism exists in a fragmented way, Guilabert explains.
“Contemporary activism is very incipient. There is not a very old democratic tradition either, they are sectors that are under construction and many organizations fight among themselves,” he said.
“That has caused the environmental movement not to work together and has not gained strength, to that you add a lack of environmental education,” he added.
Mexico: its youth and its potential at COP27
In Mexico, it is estimated that there are more than 39 million adolescents and young people (aged 12 to 29), almost a third of the country’s total population, according to the National Population Council (CONAPO). It is an important demographic sector, not only for the country’s economy, but because it represents a sector vulnerable to climate change, and at the same time a leader in climate action; not to mention its relevance in the 2024 presidential elections.
“The demands of youth at COP27 go towards being involved in decision making and in the whole cycle of public policies, not only in matters of consultation, but also in their design, approval, implementation and evaluation”, stated Adriana García, member of the Youth Advisory Group of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA).
Maria Fernanda Camara, a 23-year-old who grew up in a rural community in Tabasco, a state in southern Mexico, is part of the Youth Alliance for Family Planning and will attend the climate negotiations in Sharm El Sheik. There she will push the gender, sexual and reproductive health and climate change agenda, representing the Youth Climate Movement (YOUNGO), one of several observer groups adhering to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
For Camara, gender is one of the factors that determine – in addition to age, economy and location – the way in which each person will suffer the impacts of climate change. At the last COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, UK, of the total number of attendees, only 3.8% were Latinas.
“It is very good to do individual activism, but when you do it from the organization and from the community, you have much more success and impact in making realities visible. At COP27 it is much more urgent because it is a privileged space, where there are more political leaders than social and youth leaders,” she said.
In addition to the organizations to which Camara and García belong, such as Latinas for Climate and UNFPA, other youth civil society organizations that will attend COP27 with Mexican representation will be Carta de la Tierra, Climate Reality Project, My World, and possibly Friday’s For Future Mexico.
“The problem is when we go back to the country, how do we manage to implement all this at the institutional, state and municipal levels,” García questions. “That’s where the youth come in, weaving networks with their communities to communicate what happened in this international process and what happens in the local context and in the territory,” she emphasized.
The need for a climate response is more important now than ever. Despite having poverty and inequality figures worthy of a developing country, Mexico ranks 13th in emissions and is among the world’s 10 largest methane emitters. And while global authorities are urging a change in the energy model, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is betting on energy independence – based on fossil fuels and against renewable energies.
The country’s commitments to international climate efforts have been questioned, and its previously submitted plans for decarbonization as part of the Paris Agreement are currently suspended by a Mexican court for their lack of ambition.
“We find ourselves everywhere,” said Roberto Hernández, an activist and environmental law attorney from a community in the state of Tabasco. “There are young people working in the sciences and in different environmental points but there is a lack of connecting us, a lack of sharing information and working together hand in hand with the state and companies, and creating a new narrative.”
“You young people have the possibility to influence the agenda of the next elections,” said Senator Xóchitl Gálvez, a vocal environmental advocate at Mexico’s youth event ahead of COP27. “Don’t forget.”
COP27 is taking place in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh from November 6-18.
This article was originally published, with contributions coming from Yanine Quiroz, in China Dialogue and is part of the special #COP27Latam.