Angry and afraid: B.C. youth call on global leaders to take urgent action on climate change

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Who says teenagers are hard to wake up in the morning? Dozens of students at Johnston Heights Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., showed up before classes started Tuesday to share their frustrations over what they see as a lack of action from policy-makers on protecting them and their planet. (Jeremy Allingham/CBC - image credit)
Who says teenagers are hard to wake up in the morning? Dozens of students at Johnston Heights Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., showed up before classes started Tuesday to share their frustrations over what they see as a lack of action from policy-makers on protecting them and their planet. (Jeremy Allingham/CBC - image credit)

Many teens in British Columbia spent their summer vacations dodging a deadly virus, breathing dangerous wildfire smoke and trying to stay cool during a heat dome that killed hundreds.

And now that global leaders are gathered in Glasgow dithering on climate action, some of them have a few things they would like to get off their chest.

The United Nations climate summit in Scotland is two weeks of intense negotiations where almost 200 countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets.

To mark the occasion, CBC's The Early Edition spoke with students at Johnston Heights Secondary School in Surrey about the planet's future — and their own.

School staff asked students willing to share their thoughts on climate change to come to the school before classes started on Tuesday.

A handful were expected to show up. Dozens did. And their fear and frustrations were palpable, as they called on policy-makers to protect the world they will soon inherit.

"At this rate, the planet isn't going to make it," said Richard Chen.

He said this summer was the hottest he had ever experienced and he was horrified to see his city smothered under smoke from wildfires on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

ken Leedham/CBC News
ken Leedham/CBC News

Chen's message to leaders overseas at COP26 right now is to follow up on their promises, saying that in his lifetime, he has seen a lot of lip service and very little action.

Those leaders are looking for ways to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 C this century, as was agreed upon at COP21 in Paris six years ago.

Since then, the world has already warmed by more than 1.1 C and current projections based on planned emissions cuts over the next decade are for it to hit 2.7 C by the year 2100.

Student Hannah Shim called global industry's continued reliance on fossil fuels "greedy and selfish" and said if that doesn't change now, it will be very hard to reverse course in the future.

Ken Leedham/CBC News
Ken Leedham/CBC News

"The past few years has been so drastic to our environment and to our lives," said Shim, calling the heat dome and other disasters exacerbated by climate change "a consequence of what we didn't do."

In 2019, Canada's oil and gas sector accounted for 191 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions — 26 per cent of the country's total emissions. The country's second largest source of emissions is the transport sector, which emitted 186 megatonnes.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in Glasgow that Canada will impose a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, as needed, to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Ken Leedham/CBC News
Ken Leedham/CBC News

Umanga Bajgai says he'll believe change when he sees it.

Bajgai believes his generation will be caretaking a planet no one really cared for before because promises are continuously made but not acted on.

"We are inheriting a dying planet and all because the older generation won't do anything about it," he said.

B.C. university student Marina Melanidis, founder of Youth4Nature, is in Glasgow and echoed this anger and frustration.

"We hear fancy words all the time, but we haven't seen that translate to action yet. So it is really, really hard to trust that continued rhetoric when we just don't see evidence of actions," she said.

Andrew Milligan/PA/The Associated Press
Andrew Milligan/PA/The Associated Press

She said it is upsetting and "tokenistic" to often see young people trotted out to give emotive speeches at climate conferences to rooms full of adults who listen and sometimes take zero action.

And while Surrey students hope COP26 policy-makers hear their message that more needs to be done, Melanidis has a message for those students: leaders will have no choice but to listen to if they stay mad and mobilize.

"Don't let this inaction from our leaders translate into a sort of doom-ism and lack of action from ourselves," she said.

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