SHARM el-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) – UN climate talks are by their very nature filled with scientific and diplomatic jargon.
As 10-year-old Nakeeyat Dramani Sam addressed hundreds of delegates during a plenary session on Friday, her soft voice and direct message cut through the dryness, a reminder to negotiators and all listeners that decisions made at climate talks must be direct can affect people.
Speaking about the suffering in Ghana due to flooding, she held up a sign that read ‘Payment Overdue’.
“I put a simple question on the table,” she said. “When can you pay us back the money? Because the payment is overdue.”
Sam spoke on a sensitive issue that has been the focus of the last two weeks of negotiations at the COP27 summit, held in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Many developing countries insist that the rich countries, which have contributed most to climate change due to high greenhouse gas emissions, compensate them for the damage.
In climate negotiations, the topic is “Loss and Damage”. It’s an issue that generates a wide range of opinions and nuanced lines of argument. Developed nations like the United States have resisted such claims for compensation, not wanting to be left at risk by potentially indefinite liability. China, also a high-carbon country, supports the idea of rich nations contributing to such payments but refuses to pay. The European Union on Thursday presented a proposal to set up a fund for losses and damages. While the proposal gave negotiators something concrete to chew on, it also likely deepened divisions.
Sam’s speech didn’t concern itself with the machinations of negotiations, but had the kind of frankness and freshness that children come naturally to.
She told attendees that earlier this week she met with US climate chief John Kerry. Kerry was nice, she said, and the meeting got her thinking about the future.
There was humor in her next sentence, although she certainly didn’t mean it that way.
“When I’m his age, God willing, it will be the end of this century,” she said, implicitly saying, as children often do with adults, that Kerry was old. Kirry is 78.
Shortly thereafter came a powerful and direct message.
Speaking about how scientists say the world has less than a decade for pollution to continue at today’s rates before the effects of global warming get much worse, Sam said: “Have a heart and do the math. It’s an emergency.”
When Sam finished speaking, she received a standing ovation.
In a subsequent interview, Sam said her environmentalism began a few years ago with a love of trees. She has written a children’s book about trees in Ghana and has planted over 100 trees to date.
“I also call for every child to plant a tree,” she said as she stood next to her mother and aunt.
Sam said she was a poet and when asked to do so, she recited from memory a poem about climate change that ended with exhortations to rich countries to take responsibility and pay for historical climate damage. Children are the best people to deliver such messages, she said, because they would be around to suffer the consequences of the planet’s warming.
“We’re the future leaders, so when we talk, people listen,” she said. “I don’t know about the adults because I’m not their age. ”
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