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Science and Innovations

Youth Activist Represents Flagstaff at UN Climate Change Conference

Grand Canyon Trust

The United Nations’ climate change conference wraps up today in Germany. It’s an opportunity for world governments to negotiate ways to implement the Paris Climate Accord and slow the planet’s warming. Eva Malis is a 22-year-old youth delegate from Flagstaff attending the conference. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke to her about her concerns for the future of the Colorado Plateau. 

Eva, thanks for talking with me from Germany today.

Thank you so much for having me.  

Tell me what motivated you to attend this conference in Germany as a youth delegate from Flagstaff?

I’m angry and scared for my future. We have rights to a livable climate and a stable future, and that has been stolen from us. Currently the U.S. is the only country that is holding us back and trying to step out of the Paris Agreement, whereas every other country in these negotiations has agreed to it.

We’ve been talking about climate change on this international level and it’s a big issue. What does this have to do with people who live here on the Colorado Plateau?

The Colorado Plateau is a sacrifice zone for much of the U.S. fossil fuel infrastructure…. I think that in Arizona and our communities, we’re going to have to pay special attention to who is going to be impacted most and hardest and first, and how are we going to change our infrastructure and adapt to the way climate is changing…. This includes figuring out what it looks like to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as we can, while also meeting the needs of the communities who are relying on fossil fuels, and making sure that no one gets left behind. I believe that it’s possible, I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, but I also believe we have no other choice.

And for you going to this conference isn’t just about learning about climate change and representing Arizona there, it’s also about activism. I understand you and some of the other youth delegates organized a walkout.

Yes. The White House sent people to host a fossil fuel panel at the UN climate change negotiations. It’s almost as if you were to host a panel on tobacco use at a conference about cancer. And it outraged a lot of people, not just from the U.S. but from all over the world. We organized and we got around over 200 people to come out to this panel. As they began to speak we rose and started singing a song together. And then we staged a mass walkout. We were so honored and humbled by the amount of people who showed up to our event, it really showed that the people are on our side, and the people are united are one against fossil fuel CEOS.

Tell me a bit more about the Paris Climate Accord. Why do you think it’s important that the U.S. stay in that agreement?

The Paris Agreement took my entire lifetime to create, it took two decades and more of climate negotiations. It’s the best hope we have in terms of international climate policy. We cannot afford to be taking steps backward. Instead what we need to be doing is pushing the Paris agreement further and trying to go beyond it, so we can save ourselves and save our future generations.

So that was Eva Malis on the line from Germany. Eva, thanks for talking, and safe travels home.

Thank you so much.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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