'Be good ancestors,' youth activists tell ministers at UN nature talks

18 Dec 2022 12:35pm
Prisca Daka, Eshadi Mendis, Flavia Gonzales (left to right) - Lars Hagberg
Prisca Daka, Eshadi Mendis, Flavia Gonzales (left to right) - Lars Hagberg
MONTREAL - As the world's environment ministers try to thrash out a new deal for nature, youth activists gathered at a UN summit in Montreal are making it clear that actions taken today will affect generations to come.

Here is what some had to say.

Prisca Daka, a 31-year-old from Zimbabwe now based in the US, is regional coordinator for Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) Africa.

She works with local communities to help preserve the Samango monkey, a species that is unique to Zimbabwe but whose habitat is being threatened by deforestation and banana plantations.

Daka has been formally involved in activism since 2017, but says her love of nature began when she was six years old and visited national parks with her family.

"We don't talk much about biodiversity, which is the web of life -- everything we see, the air we breathe, the water we drink," she said.

"Extinction is forever, so as young people we're bringing attention to the biodiversity crisis and showing what the future could look like if we do not act now."

She added she felt proud that this COP has more African youth than ever before, something she hopes will "become the norm."

As a member of GYBN in Sri Lanka, Eshadi Mendis, 30, focuses on beach and ocean clean-up projects in her island nation.
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"Because of the way Sri Lanka is situated, all the inland pollution is going to the sea. So we need to find ways to clean it and stop it," she says.

Unfortunately, she adds, awareness about the COP15 summit is limited in her home country, something Mendis is working hard to change.

She also thinks it's important for the United Nations to stop treating climate and biodiversity as distinct issues requiring distinct summits, with the latter receiving less attention as a result.

"They're very interconnected," she says. Her take-home message, though, is to prioritize young people in the negotiation process.

"Our word should be considered... older people should know that they should be good ancestors for us so when they leave this Earth, we have something to utilize as well."

Flavia Gonzales studied biology to understand "how I could save nature". Along the way, she realized that the best way was to make people aware of their own relationship with the environment.

The Bolivian activist, who wears her hair in colored braids, was moved as a teenager by the mistreatment of animals in her hometown La Paz. But "little by little you see that not only animals are being mistreated, but all of nature is being mistreated."

Now 24 years old, she has dedicated herself to educating people about the environment, empowering girls and young people about their rights.

Gonzales was one of a few dozen youths who painted their faces and took part in a protest outside the Montreal Convention Centre on Friday, demanding policymakers reach a deal that "achieves the objectives that can help us improve as a society."

"If we don't, what's the point?" - AFP
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