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I’m Xananine, an activist of indigenous descendant from Mexico. I am a member of the OECD Youth Advisory Board Youthwise for 2022, and I was invited to participate in the OECD’s Environment Policy Committee Ministerial “Environmental Policy in a Post-COVID-19 World: Ensuring a Resilient and Healthy Environment for All".
The 25th of March saw the first global climate strike of 2022 led by Fridays for Future. It served as another opportunity for diverse youth organisations to come together, collaborate and join forces to demand environmental justice. Youth political participation also happens in the streets. We amplified our voices to spread our message: in order to save our future we must put people over profit.
A people-centred green transition is necessary. We have not only inherited a damaged environment and a threatened planet but also a nonfunctional economic system—rooted in over-exploitation and extraction—that is destroying the Global South’s  and communities for the profit of the Global North and the wealthiest 1%.
Because the water of the nearest mountain of where I live was being taken away by a multinational company, our access to the vital liquid was being threatened. But through community action, led by indigenous people, we stopped the extraction. This and many other stories around the world like it have proved that local solutions, grassroots resistance and alternatives to protect life—created by the most affected yet least responsible people—are necessary and need to be defended.
Latin America, where I am from, is the deadliest region for environmental activists and defenders. We live under the violence of a system that not only excludes us from the decision-making spaces but also prosecutes us, as our demands threaten the continuation of a system that benefits a few. Just before COP26 took place last year, Irma Galindo Bairros, an indigenous forest defender from Mexico, disappeared; she still has not been found.
Climate Change is Urging us to Adapt and to Mitigate: We must not leave the most vulnerable behind by Edwin J. Castellanos, Director, Sustainable Economic Observatory, Universidad del Valle de Guatemala
We feel that danger when striking; we feel it when we research; we fear it when we try to involve ourselves in policy making. The low engagement of youth in decision-making is not only because of disinformation but also because of the structural violence that threatens us today for demanding the cessation of threats in the future.
But we have learnt that defending life is what gives us hope: it is the path on which we can intersect multiple forms of resistance and scales of impact. Just as alliances between youth environmentalism and indigenous land defence are becoming a tendency in Latin America, different forms of political organisation are possible.
Governments could acknowledge the self-determination of other forms of political representation, learning from their experiences to open up and diversify the spaces of environmental decision-making. Involving youth, indigenous communities and marginalised regions in real collaboration—not just contribution—is possible if policy serves to break down structural oppressions, if it changes systemic dynamics to redistribute power and wealth.
Any form of decarbonisation or sustainability must be followed by decolonisation, historical reparations and repaying environmental debts. We cannot build environmental justice using the logic of the system that brought us here. I challenge ministers to use their power and influence to share spaces and resources to make policies with the frontline communities’ safety in mind. Opportunities like Youthwise—and organisations that create spaces for dialogue like the OECD—are hopefully the beginning of reciprocal relationships and the meaningful involvement that we all need
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It is a very interesting article. Thanks to the author! The question of the isolation of green defenders is important. This is frightening when they risk their life. I wonder how the experience of other human rights activists could help to break the isolation (I am thinking of Anticorruption activists or DP abolitionists). Networking activities are important to strengthen resiliency and combat stereotypes and above all percolate values everywhere possible.
Greeting from Strasbourg!