Leonie Bremer, 22, explains from COP25 how Fridays4Future is moving beyond holding signs to increase the pressure on every government on climate change.
There’s a newly established dynamic at the UN climate negotiations. Back in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was celebrated, I witnessed many indigenous peoples crying as they realised that no firm commitment to hold to 1.5ºC was, in fact, a death sentence.
The difference between 1.5ºC and 2ºC is climatically enormous and devastating to billions of vulnerable people around the world. Between the time of signing of the Paris Agreement and today, no progress has been made. As emissions continue to rise, people are starting to see the devastating impacts of climate change in every part of the world.
What has changed is the presence and voices of young people who have now formed a tight bond with the indigenous peoples of the world to bring their plight and fight to a wider audience.
Greta Thunberg is no doubt the figurehead of the movement as is evidenced by the press here at the COP in Madrid stalking her every appearance.
Greta herself is using her platform and empowerment to push the agenda of the Fridays For Future movement. Although very present, she is delegating the high-level exposure to her colleagues and representatives from around the world.
Leonie Bremer is a 22-year-old student living in Cologne, studying environment and energy, and the press spokesperson for Fridays for Future Germany. She highlighted her own desperation at the climate situation and how it is impacting so many people today.
Leonie Berners (LB): At the COP right now we have people from 41 countries here and, of course, they all have different expertise. There are also indigenous people who can tell us about their experiences and their suffering from the climate crisis everyday. Myself, for example, I am studying the environmental and energy stuff, so I can talk a little bit more about this, so yeah, we are specialised in different ways.
Nick Breeze (NB): You mentioned indigenous people and their suffering. Is it quite obvious to you that in the west we tend to think of 2050, 2100, when we talk about climate change but when you are talking to indigenous peoples it has been about yesterday and about now for quite some time?
LB: Yeah, I am talking to them about this and I am really sad when I hear their stories and I am back in my country and people are like, ‘well yeah, we still have time to solve the climate crisis’ but at the same time I am talking to those that have lost their mother and their brother because they have no more food because hydroelectric dams are flooding their homes. They cannot fish anymore and they are dying. Sometimes I feel a little bit desperate about this.
This was highlighted in the press conference hosted by Thunberg when Carlon Zachras from the Marshall Islands pointed out that they are two metres above sea-level but have been experiencing tidal surges of nearly five metres.
This means they are losing their agriculture and homes to the encroaching sea. The situation is worsening and it is caused by the relentless pollution of the wealthier, developed nations. It disgracefully unjust. Zachras pointed out that the Marshall Island’s are responsible for 0.000001% of global CO2 emissions.
NB: The youth movement has really put climate change on the international newsreel, you have got the world’s attention, what next?
LB: The world leaders have to understand the climate crisis and yet it doesn’t seem like they do. When they do, then we have to get involved in the decision making. It is not fair that they decide about our future but we are the ones that have to live with that.
We have to break down the complex science so that everybody can understand and feel the panic that I feel everyday when I think about the climate crisis. I see the climate crisis in every aspect of my life and I think this has to spread around the world.
NB: The COP is a strange event really: it is held to address a crisis, there are a mixed bag of people, all walks of life; there are presentations, press releases, press everywhere, reports being released… is it sufficient?
LB: It is not sufficient. As we see, for example, in 2015 we decided on the Paris Agreement but it has been four years and the climate crisis is not averted.
We need to take this seriously and to act. Not just talking about it, but to agree on things we have to change and to have an action plan that is controlled every year and that is really strict on climate policy.
NB: How do you see Fridays4Future evolving because it seems like young people have to get more active. You are pretty active as it is but you have to get more active to make the demands that are needed.
LB: Yeah, here at COP we have the chance to talk to people from Chile, or from Hong Kong, and all the countries where there is many protests on the streets.
When I have the chance to talk with them I give them power to keep on fighting and this is so important because otherwise, they lose their power because they get so many critical views from their country but what they are doing is correct. By [this kind of action] we grow and we evolve and we get stronger everyday.
NB: Are you seeing solidarity around the world from the youth movement?
LB: Yeah, especially here at the COP, we try to draw attention to Chile again just because the COP is taking place in Madrid right now, the problems are not solved yet.
We need to really focus on those things and not be partying like the people did here last night. We need to work the whole night to get a freer world. This is what we are trying to achieve here.
‘Chile woke up’
A delegate from Chile, Angela Valenzuela, spoke out on the same panel as Thunberg and Zachras, pointing a finger at the Chilean government for coming to the UN and behaving like nothing has happened.
She said angrily that since the COP was relocated to Madrid the world’s mainstream media had stopped reporting on the dire situation there.
On the climate crisis, Valenzuela said, “Chile woke up. We said we cannot support a system that ignores the climate crisis… Chile woke up, and the world is waking up too!”
Fridays4Future represents a new voice in the world who are doggedly prepared to speak truth to power in a world that is already looking chaotic, both climatically and politically.
These issues cut across gender, environmental racism, and intergenerational injustice.
Making the right choice to tackle the climate crisis should be the easiest choice to make, however, as Rose Ripple from the US indigenous peoples said, ‘This colonial institution continually favours corporate profits…Our movements must be bigger than recycling and bolder than holding signs!’