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“You’ve Made a Wager of Our Future”: Somali Youth Activist Pleads to U.N. Summit for Climate Action

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Just before we went to air today, Somali youth climate activist Marian Osman addressed the main plenary at the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland. “There’s a Somali proverb that goes: 'A mere finger can't obscure the sun,’” Osman said. “You cannot hide the truth by deception. As any one of the thousands whom are in need in Somalia and the Philippines this week could tell you, no amount of political stalling can hide the fact that a climate crisis is here.” Earlier this month, a deadly cyclone slammed the Puntland region of Somalia, wreaking havoc on an already vulnerable population.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. For those who are just listening to this broadcast, you can go to our website to see this video that was created by Cough for Coal. It is a video of a huge plastic nine-foot lungs that are walked through the streets of Warsaw in protest.

Yes, this is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from the capital of Poland, where the U.N. climate change summit is taking place. I’m Amy Goodman. Since we arrived here in Warsaw, 18 people have died on the Italian island of Sardinia in Cyclone Cleopatra, at least six people have been killed by tornadoes in Illinois, and the people of the Philippines continue to recover from the strongest typhoon to hit landfall in history.

We turn now to a voice from Africa. Just before we went to air, Somali youth climate activist Marian Osman addressed the main plenary here at the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw.

MARIAN HUSSEIN OSMAN: Twenty-one years. This year marks 21 years since the conception of the UNFCCC. And for those years, I ask negotiators, just what do you have to show for yourselves? This convention was conceived to curb temperature increases and cope with impacts of current climate change, yet here and now, 21 years later, atmospheric CO2 has reached unprecedented levels, and our adaptation fund remains full of nothing but empty promises. You all gather here under the pretense of collaboration for a sustainable future, and yet sit in this plenary divided. Past, present and future responsibilities must be held accountable, but not while undermining global action to combat climate change.

There’s a Somali proverb that goes, “A mere finger cannot obscure the sun.” You cannot hide the truth by deception. As any one of the thousands who are in need in Somalia and the Philippines this week could tell you, no amount of political stalling can hide the fact that a climate crisis is here. The defining problem of my generation blinds us, burns us, and it’s easy to look away, but why raise a finger when we could join hands?

Member states, rather than the interests of corporate lobbyists and money, let your definitive common ground guide your politics. We, the youth, your shared future, transcend borders, emphasize cooperation and mutual understanding. Corporations may have a responsibility to their shareholders, but they are a fraction of this world’s population. This convention has a responsibility to ensure the health of our planet. 

Though we have been charged with—for championing naive and unrealistic expectations for this convention, it has been the ambition and unbridled hope of youth that has made up the driving force in what has become an uphill battle for climate justice. As our window of opportunity to avoid irreversible climate change closes and you, the current climate architects, idle, we persist—idealistically, perhaps, but in full regard of the science behind our precarious circumstances and armed with an urgency to match. We are not just a special interest group. We are the future scientists, economists and politicians of this convention—the principal recipients of this negotiation’s outcome.

Where human existence is non-negotiable, you’ve made a 21-year wager on our future. In these final hours, ministers and delegates, I beg: Do not let Warsaw become a second Copenhagen. Greed and the petty interests of a minority should not rob us of what have become inarguably inalienable human rights. With our homes, livelihoods and even geophysical existences at risk, raised ambition on climate change is not optional; it is vital.

AMY GOODMAN: Somali youth climate activist Marian Hussein Osman, speaking just moments ago here in Warsaw, Poland, at the U.N. climate summit, addressing the plenary.

Earlier this month, a deadly cyclone slammed the Puntland region of Somalia, wreaking havoc on an already vulnerable population. Approximately 300 people died. The U.N. estimates 30,000 people are in desperate need of assistance. Several local groups have put the number closer to 50,000. Hundreds of people remain missing. The cyclone has gotten very little international media attention.

Marian Osman is joining us now, right from the plenary. It’s good to be with you.


AMY GOODMAN: Marian, where do you live?

MARIAN HUSSEIN OSMAN: I live in Mogadishu, and my grandparents live in Afgoye, so I’m in between the two. It’s a village just outside Mogadishu, about an hour.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does climate change affect Somalia?

MARIAN HUSSEIN OSMAN: Several different ways. You did mention the cyclone, which is a pretty pertinent example, given it just happened a week ago. But in addition, there are two kind of key areas in Somalia that are—have a lot of potential, in terms of economic growth for the entire country, which are agriculture and fishing. Of all the countries in Africa, Somalia has the longest coastline. And ocean acidification is obviously wreaking havoc on biodiversity in all of these communities. Many fishing towns rely on these resources and have been spurred to kind of take up things like piracy as a result of having no place to turn, given that our government is not the most stable in the world, I guess, and is working to kind of solidify itself after 22 years of civil war.

AMY GOODMAN: When people hear about Somalia, at least in the United States, it’s usually accompanied by the words “famine” or “piracy.”

MARIAN HUSSEIN OSMAN: It’s true. It’s an—

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the connection to climate change?

MARIAN HUSSEIN OSMAN: Well, when—I like to think that when the going gets tough, people take things into their own hands. And so, for climate change to be taking very necessary resources and livelihoods from people, it’s something that stimulates a lot of crime, and people are desperate, I guess. But I’d like to think that the situation is improving substantially in Somalia, just assuming that climate change does not continue to wreak havoc and deprive people of their homes and their incomes and all those sorts of things.

AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of people marched out of the summit.


AMY GOODMAN: It was unprecedented yesterday. But you’re inside. In fact, you spoke inside. You addressed the plenary.

MARIAN HUSSEIN OSMAN: Mm-hmm. It was really moving to be able to see all that yesterday. And then, there were still quite a few people that were in the plenary that I had the opportunity to address today. The unfortunate reality of what’s been happening in the past two weeks here is that youth haven’t been given nearly as much inclusion into what’s been going on, which has obviously reached a boiling point with a lot of the non-governmental organizations that are here in Warsaw at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you devoting your life to the issue of climate, of all of the issues?

MARIAN HUSSEIN OSMAN: Because, I mean, I’m going to end up inheriting what’s left of the planet after these negotiations sort themselves out, and I would hope that things are in a necessary shape, like a decent shape, so that we have something to work with. And Somalia, again, is a country that I want to see improve. I want to be able to see the same Somalia that my parents saw when they were growing up. So, all a part of the hope that the entire situation will improve.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Marian Hussein Osman, Somali climate change activist who addressed the summit today on behalf of youth delegates.

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