In Chad, livestock herders are struggling to find grazing for their animals, and crops are not growing as they should due to worsening droughts and floods, according to Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, a member of the African country’s Mbororo pastoralist community.
As a result, people are being pushed deeper into poverty and are fighting over shrinking resources, she told a gathering on the sidelines of the UN climate conference in Madrid on Saturday, as the talks pushed into a day of overtime.
“The climate emergency is now,” she said. “We need our voices to be here... action must start now.”
As the two-week negotiations struggled to overcome sharp disagreements, with Friday’s scheduled ending repeatedly pushed back, Ibrahim spoke at a “Peoples’ Closing Plenary” alongside others advocating on behalf of groups including women, youth, workers and people with disabilities.
Many said the summit, known as COP25, had “failed the people and the planet” and called for “climate justice” instead of an outcome tilted towards the interests of powerful polluters.
In the formal talks, European governments, small island states and the poorest nations struggled to persuade big-emitting countries - from the United States and Brazil to India, China and Japan - to commit in 2020 to making their climate action plans more ambitious.
Jason Boberg, a New Zealand disability rights campaigner and filmmaker, told the people’s assembly those with disabilities faced serious threats from climate change.
“From fires and power shut-offs in California to floods and other disasters, disabled people... are the first to be left behind and the first to die,” he said.
Speakers criticised the reluctance of wealthy governments to provide financial support for people left hungry, water-short and homeless by worsening extreme weather and rising seas.
And some decried plans to expand carbon emissions trading markets to include forests without guarantees the schemes would reduce emissions or protect local people’s rights.
“Our forests are not for sale,” said Ibrahim from Chad.
Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network International, said the anti-apartheid movement in her native South Africa had not believed it could ever end the system of racial segregation - but did in the end, thanks to global solidarity.
“People’s leadership will save us from devastating climate change,” the former government official told a crowd of listeners, of all ages and nationalities, seated on the conference centre floor.
This year’s UN talks have exposed a wide and growing gap between an increasingly vocal mass movement calling on politicians to step up climate action, and the slow pace of their response.
Scientists have said efforts to cut planet-warming emissions further and faster are urgently needed if the world is to have a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the lower goal adopted in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Current national climate plans, if achieved, would lead to a temperature rise of at least 3 degrees, a level of warming that scientists say could lead to widespread food and water scarcity, more weather disasters and rising seas.
The science and growing public demand for action is heaping pressure on governments to meet a deadline to strengthen their climate plans by the end of next year - but only about 80 smaller-emitting countries have so far said they will.
UN climate talks have ‘failed the people’, activists say