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Activism Needed to Put Necessary Pressure

In our articles series leading up to Stockholm+50, we cover youth activists with clear demands on world leaders to solve the ecological crisis. Jonas Kittelsen, described by Aftenposten as Norway’s most controversial activist, is first out. For Jonas, activism is needed to put the necessary pressure on meetings like Stockholm+50 so that decision-makers understand what is really at stake.

In late April, Greenpeace and the Extinction Rebellion made the headlines in Norway and worldwide after they chained themselves to a Russian oil tanker in the free harbor of Exxon subsidiary company Esso near Asgardstrand south of Oslo. As Norway allows Russian oil, they are financing the Russian war and exacerbating the climate crisis, says Jonas Kittelsen, who participated in the blockade of the oil tanker.

Activists from Greenpeace and the Extinction Rebellion held up the message “Oil = War” during their action near Asgardstrand in late April 2022.

It is not hard to grasp why movements like these have increased in recent years. The environmental and climate policies are simply not enough. That is why people are protesting. Actions like the one near Asgardstrand come close to when Greta Thunberg sat outside the Swedish parliament back in August 2018 refusing to go to school on Fridays with the motivation “because you adults shit in my future, so do I”.

For Jonas, too, breaking the norms is indeed one of the tools to reach politicians. Civil disobedience goes under the same theme, going as far as breaking the law to make a point without any violence for a cause much higher than oneself. Those who know him understand that this tool is used only with utter care and consideration.

Jonas delivered a speech at the first rally of “Akademiaprotest” in Oslo taking place every second week between scientists and students.

Jonas’ activism does not only come from outside, but also from within power structures. In 2019, he got engaged in a project initiated by the Nordic Council which aimed to involve youth in international negotiations on the new Convention of Biodiversity (CBD). The youth involved founded the Nordic Youth Biodiversity Network, which last year published a Nordic Youth Position Paper with 19 actionable demands on how to save biodiversity.

Jonas has been one of the keen advocates for the Position Paper in a range of events. For one, he attended the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow last year. Jonas was also involved in the preparatory meetings for the CBD negotiations, held in Geneva in March, aligning the Nordic demands with the ones from the Global Youth Biodiversity Network.

The negotiations during these kinds of summits are oftentimes a play with technical words. According to Jonas, this is one of the reasons why youth have to take part in the conferences.

"It is important to include critical voices from civil society who point out the large gap between what science says and what politics delivers. This is crucial for the COP:s not to become greenwashing forums"
"Young people are in a special position as we are potential victims of the policies that are decided today, and we have less opportunity to make an impact. As our interests are consistently downgraded, we need to attend and make our voices heard."

Jonas on the Geneva Meetings in March 2022 leading up to the CBD negotiations.

Jonas will be one of those critical voices at the Stockholm+50, representing the Nordic youth. One of his expectations of the meeting is that the seriousness of the global ecological crises sinks in even more and that the political talks, as a result, move into a new direction where it becomes evident that we have no other choice but to take bold action. To Jonas, this is very evident in the case of fossil fuels.

"The conversation we need is that the world has found more coal, oil and gas than we can extract and burn. Who or what actors must not extract what we have found?"

Last year, researchers, published in Nature, mapped the amount of explored fossil fuels globally. They found that about 55% of all oil resources can not be extracted in order to reach the Paris Agreement's 1.5-degree target. If one includes historical responsibility, The United States and Russia cannot extract up to 97% of their coal resources.

"Norway is doing everything they can to expand its fossil production. It is an extreme distance between what science is telling us and what politicians are saying. We have to recognise the gap and act on it."

Jonas further points out that even in a case where there might be a sense of understanding of an issue, the solutions proposed to mitigate the issue might have unintentional negative consequences. This is often the case if we use the same industrial and extractivist approach when solving issues that extractive and exploitative industrialism has caused.

"Those who pay the price for the climate crisis will again be those who pay the price for nature based solutions if we use an extractivist approach. Nature based solutions must be implemented in a rights-based approach where indigenous peoples and local communities have a say. We have to ensure that they can continue to use their areas as they always have done."

As often seen in international negotiations, youth organize impromptu manifestations. This one took place in Geneva in March 2022

According to Jonas, it all boils down to how we misunderstand our interdependence with nature in policy-making.

"We live in an illusion that we can put different societal interests between each other as if they were equally important. But really, everything must start from nature avoiding ecological collapse. If we do not make it work, there will be enormous consequences for all other policy areas."
"As a politician, you have to strike a balance between different interests. I have a great deal of respect for the fact that it is difficult to make trade-offs. But ultimately, we depend on nature to have social and economic stability."

Jonas’ advocacy work on the Stockholm+50 meeting will, as for many other youth delegates, take form in seminars, meetings, and corridor lobbying. But who knows if the international headlines will be made again through other more, let’s say, provocative means. The question is, however, if whatever action now appeared in your mind actually would be as provocative anymore. Ponder this: One day, Friday for Future strikers were accused of risking bad grades at school. Another day, the questions are addressed to senior change-makers who, with open eyes and against better knowledge, continue to approve expanded fossil fuel operations. Similarly, is it really Jonas who is controversial or the Norwegian government?

It requires much courage from Jonas and other young activists in promoting a public sense of urgency for a fight much larger than themselves. Suffice it to say, this courage is what the world summit of Stockholm+50 needs the most. With that, world leaders will be able to chart a path forward to a greener civilization.

Article and interview were written by:

Simon Holmström

Nordic Council Delegate to Stockholm+50

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