Youth climate activists Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate have chastised global leaders for failing to meet funding pledges and for delivering too much “blah blah blah” as climate change wreaks havoc around the world.
The activists even cast doubt on the intentions behind the youth climate gathering in Milan, where they were speaking.
Four hundred climate activists from 180 countries were invited to Italy’s financial capital for a three-day Youth4Climate summit that will send its recommendations to Cop26, a major United Nations climate summit in Glasgow that begins on October 31.
Participants at the Milan summit are demanding more accountability from leaders as well as a bigger official role for young people.
Swedish activist Ms Thunberg said: “They invite cherry-picked young people to pretend they are listening to us.
“But they are not. They are clearly not listening to us. Just look at the numbers. Emissions are still rising. The science doesn’t lie.
“Leaders like to say: ‘We can do it.’ They obviously don’t mean it. But we do.”
Ms Nakate, a 24-year-old activist from Uganda, said pledges of 100 billion euro (£85.5 billion) a year to help countries particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change have not materialised, even as wildfires in California and Greece and floods in Germany and Belgium show that “loss and damage is now possible everywhere”.
She said: “In fact, funds were promised by 2020, and we are still waiting.
“No more empty conferences. It’s time to show us the money. It’s time, it’s time, it’s time. And don’t forget to listen to the most affected people and areas.”
Ms Nakata dramatically underlined how climate change is affecting the African continent, “which is ironic given that Africa is the lowest emitter of CO2 emissions of any continent except Antarctica”.
Just last week, she said she saw police taking away a body that had been washed away by violent storms in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, while others searched for more victims.
Her mother told her that one man dragged off by the water had been trying to save the goods he was selling from being washed away.
Ms Nakata collapsed in tears after her emotional speech, receiving comfort from Ms Thunberg, who followed her to a podium that was too tall for her small stature.
Ms Thunberg, who coalesced the global protest movement Fridays for Future, insisted it is not too late to reverse climate trends.
However, she has clearly heard enough from leaders, whom she said have been talking for 30 years while half of all carbon emissions have occurred since 1990 – and one third since 2005.
She said: “This is all we hear from our so-called leaders: Words. Words that sound great but so far have led to no action.
“Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises. Of course we need constructive dialogue, but they have now had 30 years of blah, blah, blah. And where has this led us?”
The three-day Youth4Climate Summit will be followed by a two-day pre-Cop26 meeting before Glasgow aimed at finding common ground on sticking points among countries, which range from the world’s big carbon emitters to developing nations lagging both economically and technologically.
Hopes for a successful Glasgow summit have been boosted by announcements from the world’s two biggest economies and largest carbon polluters, the United States and China.
Chinese president Xi Jinping said his country will no longer fund coal-fired plants abroad; his US counterpart Joe Biden announced a plan to double financial aid for green growth to poorer nations.
In addition, Turkey has said it would adhere to the Paris protocols, while South Africa announced more ambitious emissions targets.
“These are good steps,” said Italy’s minister for ecological transition, Roberto Cingolani, who is hosting the Milan meetings.
“They mean that they are moving in the right direction.
“I never expect quantum jumps in this gigantic operation on a world level. But the indicators are all good.”