Students on a climate strike at the United Nations climate talks in Poland.
Photo: AP

You can add kids to the growing chorus of voices calling for dramatic climate action at international talks in Katowice, Poland. Students across Poland staged a climate strike on Friday, just days after 15-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg issued a blistering speech to the assembled delegates.

As negotiations enter the homestretch, the words and actions of these youth are some of the last things negotiators will see and hear as they try to hammer out a deal. And if the talks fail to reach a meaningful conclusion, it won’t be for lack of being reminded what’s at stake.

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“The time for talk is over, the time for action is now,” Małgorzata Czachowska, one of the students striking at Katowice, said in a statement.

Students at 16 Polish schools and 14 cities in Germany took up the climate strike. A delegation of 30 students on strike in Katowice went to the negotiation and stood on the steps of the conference center on Friday holding up red and white letters that spelled out a simple message: “12 years left.”

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That refers to the timeframe outlined in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which found that the world has 12 years to reduce emissions by 45 percent. If it fails to do so, the planet is all but certain to warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, bringing with it profound changes in sea levels, weather, heat waves, and other climate calamities.

The findings are stark, but seeing students standing in front of delegates is a very physical reminder of what the report really means and why climate talks matter. In one of the deepest injustices of climate change, young adults have very little say in the policies being set now, but those policy decisions will very much determine the world they’ll live in.

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Prior to Friday’s actions, negotiators heard from Thunberg on Wednesday. She began a climate strike in Sweden earlier this year, protesting outside parliament and handing out flyers that read “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.” On Wednesday, she addressed the conference and her speech cut right to the core of the injustice her generation will be forced to live with (you should really listen to the whole thing below because it is striking):

“In the year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there was still time to act. You say you love your children above all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes. Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”

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Small islands nations have also spoken forcefully at the climate talks, and their words carry weight as nations on the front lines of climate change. At the same time, they’re often remote places whose struggle few in the wider world can fully relate to. But as Thunberg notes, many negotiators have children and maybe even grandchildren. And they’ll have to face them every day and answer for whatever they decide to over the next two days in Poland.

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