Young climate activist protests for action at COP26

Despite everything, I maintain my eco-hope. I know, in my heart that no effort in favor of life is in vain. During our meeting, Greta said, “Never stop,” and I never will.

  • 3 years ago
  • December 20, 2021
4 min read
Francisco Vera Manzanares attended COP26 earlier this year as an EU Goodwill Ambassador Francisco Vera Manzanares attended COP26 earlier this year as an EU Goodwill Ambassador | Photo courtesy of Francisco Vera Manzanares
Francisco Vera Manzanares
Interview Subject
Francisco Vera Manzanares, 11, is known in his native Colombia for his environmental campaigns and his defense of children’s rights. He felt called to action at a very young age and has continued his activism despite receiving criticism and threats.

Follow Francisco on Twitter and Instagram.
Background Information
The United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP), part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, was held for the first time in 1995 in Berlin, Germany. The purpose of the COP is to assess progress of participating nations in dealing with climate change.

This year’s event, COP26, was hosted by the United Kingdom.

GLASGOW, Scotland—The United Kingdom is a long, long way from my home, Colombia. However, the Euroclima program, an alliance between the European Union and Latin America for the climate and environment, invited me to join this year’s UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (known as COP26) as an EU Goodwill Ambassador.

Impressions of COP26

For me, it was a dream and my goal to someday attend a COP—I felt so lucky to have the opportunity. I was so excited to be there; I enjoyed several activities over the two weeks, such as my personal meeting with Greta Thunberg. She was kind to me and said very nice things to me. I am so grateful for her time.

The best thing about the trip was the opportunity to interact with many other activists face to face. We came from long confinement and solely virtual contact due to Covid, so I felt such relief to express my admiration and get to speak in person with the people I look up to in climate activism.

Though I don’t know much English, I did my best to communicate in that language, even on my homemade signs.

I spent my days mainly in the streets, with the rest of the gathered crowd. I was also able to give some talks in different pavilions, and people seemed to be interested in them.

No children were at the conference, a fact that disappointed me. They were protesting in the streets, yes, but inside? Not even a single one. I appreciate that organizers included youth (boys of 13 and older) but felt frustrated that children don’t have a place at the table for this crucial conversation about humanity’s future.

Many children who work for human rights and other social causes are also environmental in some way, and I think they would want to participate.

I also don’t see how the COP is going to bring about many actual results. Governments meet and talk about the climate but do not apply those commitments when they’re back in their respective countries. Even if they did, those commitments are insufficient to end this climate crisis.

Making time to sightsee

When I travel, I read a lot about the destination I’m heading to, and this time I read much about Scotland, Ireland, and United Kingdom in general.

We traveled to Edinburgh and around different parts of Glasgow; my mom wanted me to see other places outside of the conference. I love to take photos, so I took advantage of all the new sights.

The weeks abroad were hectic; I had a busy schedule that expanded as I interacted with more people. At one point, my mom asked me to take a break for a weekend because she saw I was tired, and she wanted to take care of me and make sure I stayed healthy and well.

Feelings of climate helplessness and hope

As the days went by, I noticed that the atmosphere in the streets was very different from what happened in the diplomatic meetings of the COP26. The two worlds are extremely far apart.

The public—the people in the streets—are demanding more climate commitments, more financing, more adaptation, more mitigation, more action. However, in reality governments invest much, much more in war than the environment.  It seems to me that they have not listened to the mandates of their people. Outside we are mobilizing for more ambitious commitments; inside, they make broad statements but do not actually listen to us.

It makes me feel sad and helpless. It seems that the average person’s voice cannot penetrate these spaces, which are so limited and out of reach to outsiders. I expected better from the COP; we are racing against time and the rising thermometer of the Earth. The global climate situation is approaching a very serious level. I hope that the new generations of leaders will act differently. I want them to hear us, to listen to us going forward.  

Despite everything, I maintain my eco-hope. I know, in my heart that no effort in favor of life is in vain. During our meeting, Greta said, “Never stop,” and I never will.

Protesting for climate action in Glasgow, Scotland | Photo courtesy of Francisco Vera Manzanares

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