At Davos, climate activists say major issues ignored

They said more attention needed to be on human suffering, particularly in developing countries experiencing severe weather events like heat waves and floods.

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — At a small plaza in Davos, a picturesque Swiss town in the middle of the Alps, about 50 climate activists gathered on Thursday to bring attention to issues they said were largely ignored during this week’s World Economic Forum meeting.

They said more attention needed to be on human suffering, particularly in developing countries experiencing severe weather events like heat waves and floods. They said there was no talk at all of reparations, often referred to as “loss and damage,” for poor countries that have contributed little to global warming but are experiencing some of the worst effects. And finally, they said the calls for a transition to renewables were hollow, as they were not joined by talk of plans to phase out fossil fuels.

“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Fossil fuels have to go!” some chanted at the gathering, about a 10-minute walk from the main convention center, where meetings between politicians, business leaders, scientists, academics, journalists and others took place Monday through Thursday.

Climate activist Vanessa Nakate of Uganda speaks on May 26, 2022 during a climate protest near the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

The elite forum, the first in person since 2020, was held at a time that the world’s top climate scientists have warned that greenhouse gases need to be sharply curbed this decade to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. Emissions like carbon dioxide warm the planet, which leads to destabilizing weather events and other problems.

Ilyess ElKortbi, a climate activist from Ukraine who fled to Germany after Russia invaded in late February, said before coming to Davos he thought that annual U.N. climate summits were the “worst places with empty words and empty promises.” What he saw here was worse.

“People ignored the facts,” he said. “People continued to speak as if nothing happened while children and families die every day in Ukraine and lose their future just as I lost my future.”

ElKortbi, who said two of his friends had died in the war, argued that the invasion would not have happened had the European Union fully moved away from fossil fuels years ago, as many scientists and activists have long advocated. ElKortbi noted that much oil and gas that Europe uses comes from Russia, so buying that energy essentially helps fund the war.

The forum did include many discussions about climate change and the environment. Of the more than 270 panels, 90 of them, or about one third, were related to climate change, from biodiversity loss to technologies focused on removing carbon dioxide from the air. Those panels also included a handful that featured youth climate activists such as Cassidy Miligruak Kramer from Alaska, Helena Gualinga from Ecuador and Vanessa Nakate from Uganda.

Government officials, like U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Denmark Environment Minister Lea Wermelin, spoke about the need to transition to green energies and hold companies to account when it came to their emissions. And there was an announcement of the expansion of a large public-private partnership to buy green energies across supply chains of companies, all aimed at sending market signals to speed up innovation.

Climate activists Elizabeth Wathuti of Kenia, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda and Helena Gualinga of Ecuador attend the climate protest on May 26, 2022 near the meeting venue of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

But for young activists, who often argue that younger generations will inherit climate change problems not confronted today, the problem wasn’t the lack of discussion around climate change, but rather what things were not a focus. There was a lot of talk about economic growth, fears of a recession and even green technologies, but little about how to help people being hurt by climate change, they said.

“Many people here are disconnected from the reality,” said Nakate, who spoke to the small group of demonstrators. “They are in a bubble. They are in their own world.”

In many ways, Davos is indeed its own world. The town of about 10,000 people, in one of the world’s most expensive nations, is a popular for skiing in the winter and for hiking and other outdoor activities in the summer. Boutique shops and hotels line a handful of central streets. Stunning views of the mountains, some with snowcaps even in May, can be taken in from just about anywhere.

Activists who can come, either with sponsorships or on their own, either stay in adjoining towns, where lodging is a little cheaper, or crash in sleeping bags and tents at an area called Arctic Base Camp. They and others, like scientists, also participate in panels around town that are not part of the World Economic Forum program.

“Was it worth it?” said Gualinga, the Ecuadorean activist who focuses on oil companies operating in the Amazon, reflecting on the week. “I think it is essential” for activists to be here, she said.

“We’re not going to be able to find the solutions that we need if the people that are affected by the climate change, by the fossil fuels industry, are not directly active in the decision-making.”

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