India's Gen Z climate warriors
New Delhi, India - Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish superstar climate activist, pulled no punches when she delivered her verdict on the final agreement cobbled together by world leaders at the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland this month.
“COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah” she tweeted.
But in that same tweet, Thunberg also channelled the determination of legions of youth climate activists the world over: “But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever.”
The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah.
But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever. https://t.co/EOne9OogiR
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) November 13, 2021
That rallying cry echoed on the streets of Glasgow, where young activists including Theresa Rose Sebastian, an Indian student who co-founded Re-Earth Initiative, had come to observe and make her voice be heard.
“I came [to Glasgow] with hope … that governments would finally tear away from their greed and injustice and work to create a better world,” she told Al Jazeera via email. “The truth is, I am heartbroken, disappointed and betrayed.”
Her feelings of disappointment and betrayal were even more bitter given the headlines India grabbed during the summit. At the opening of COP26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered what was considered one of the summit’s highlight achievements by pledging that India - the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter- would achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.
By the close of the summit, though, India’s climate cred took a bruising, when the country, along with China, weakened the final agreement’s anti-coal commitments by changing the pledge “phase out” coal to “phase down”.
In India’s capital, New Delhi, that watered-down language on coal comes as the city’s air is so thick with pollution that schools have been closed and five coal-fired power plants have been temporarily shut down.
By 2070, Prime Minister Modi will be 120 years old. Sebastian will be 67. She, along with other members of Generation Z - those born from the mid-1990s through the early 2010s - have the most to lose if the planet is not rescued from man-made pollutants.
They are trying to wrench away power over the planet’s future from big corporations and governments. And in India, like other nations, they’re using their rage, chutzpah and brilliance to do it.
India’s youth climate activists are calling for urgent action, holding governments and businesses to account and harnessing technology creatively to clean up the mess.
Al Jazeera spoke with five Indian climate warriors to hear their stories of action. Each one spotlights a facet of the climate crisis and the stubborn inaction of older generations that is spurring young people forward.
Together these conscientious disruptors and innovators shine a light on India’s schizophrenic reality of abundance and scarcity, business opportunities and desperate attempts to survive, female empowerment, and a sometimes self-serving climate action ecosystem where privilege begets privilege.