Meet the young climate activists who fled war and death threats

Meet the young climate activists who fled war and death threats

Francisco Vera was only nine years old when he became an environmental activism. Five years on - aged 14 - he is about to receive an award at the United Nations in Geneva.

"Some people think young people don’t have enough life experience to be able to speak up, but we have energy and readiness to act!", he tells Euronews.

"Seeing the news about fires in the Amazon region and their impact on the rainforest triggered me into action”, recalls Francisco.

Franscisco Vera
Franscisco Vera - Pierre Albouy

Along with a group of friends, he founded “The Guardians for Life'' movement in 2019. Over 1,000 students have since joined the network - which raises awareness about environmental causes across Latin America.

Receiving death threats aged 11 years old

But despite his young age and cheerful demeanour, Francisco's activism has made him the target of online abuse. Death threats began to roll in on social media after he posted a video urging the Colombian government to protect children's education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ivan Duque - Colombia's President at the time - firmly condemned the abuse. However, Francisco and his family remained worried about their safety, making the tough decision to leave Colombia for Spain two years ago.

For Francisco speaking about the personal threats he received is traumatic, instead prefering to speak about the wider situation.

“Environmental and climate activists in Latin America face human rights violations, defending human rights is about peace and protecting the environment is also related to peace", he underlines.

In 2022, there were 177 reported murders of environmental activists, with 88% occurring in Latin America, according to a report by Global Witness.

Fleeing war and fighting climate issues

29-year old Nisreen Elsaim from Sudan is another young climate activist who fled her country.

Nisreen - who currently lives in Italy - started to take an interest in the environment when she was 18 years old. She is the founder of the Sudan Youth Organization on Climate Change, a network which counts over 1,300 members.

Nisreen Elsaim
Nisreen Elsaim - Pierre Albouy j

But 11 years on, the outbreak of fighting between Sudanese military and paramilitary forces in April 2023 forced her to leave Sudan - and put much of her work on hold.

"I had to flee Sudan with my small baby and leave all my friends and family behind", recalls Nisreen.

After spending time in London and Paris, Nisreen is now completing her fellowship in Transnational Governance in Florence.

The climate does not know there is a war going on

But Nisreen's sense of urgency for tackling the climate crisis has not waned. Sudan is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change in the world. Over the past few decades, increased floods and droughts have severely affected the region's agriculture, putting a strain on local livelihoods.

"The climate does not know there is a war going on. Even the states which are less prone to floods have been affected this year and agricultural crops have been a failure. This only increases tensions over food resources and water scarcity in a time of war", Nisreen tells Euronews.

Recognising the work of young activists

Half of the world’s population may be under 30 years old but only 2.6% of politicians are, according to a 2021 report.

"The Young Activists Summit laureates are selected because they achieve concrete progress on the ground. They are living proof that positive change is possible, and sustainability is achievable. They are young, smart, courageous, and capable of delivering great results", explains Marina Wutholen, who founded the Young Activists Summit five years ago.