12-year-old brings breath of fresh air to climate activism

Standing with a confident grin and an oversized hoodie, 12-year-old Francisco Javier Vera stepped up to a table and reminded cheering COP26 protesters of the activism that has earned him multiple death threats.

The school boy has become a major influence in his native Colombia, where he has earned a following for his charismatic leadership of the environment movement and human rights.

The young activist, who stands just 1.4 metres tall, does not think his youth should diminish his voice. “Regardless of what people say, that boys and girls are the future, I believe we are the present, we are the present and we have an opinion and a voice as citizens,” he told AFP. “But they don’t allow us to express it.”

He speaks strongly and passionately, with dramatic gesticulation to emphasise his point: there are few other children at the COP26 venue. Francisco became an environmental activist at the very young age of nine, in March 2019, when he saw visuals of wildfires scorching across the Amazon and the forests of Australia.

Inspired greatly by the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and by Pakistani education rights champion Malala Yousafzai, he declared to his parents that he wanted to find a movement.

“When I arrived home that night, he had already compiled a whole database of contacts for people in the neighbourhood,” mentioned his mother Ana Maria Manzanares, a social worker. She has since quit her job to devote time to supporting her son.

His father, a lawyer, objected in the beginning fearing repercussions, but relented and bought his son a megaphone.

Speaking at COP26 “is very different from living where climate change is happening,” he said, including the fact that even during his short life he has seen biodiversity loss in the lush Villeta waterfalls region.

World leaders must focus “not only on climate but for a dignified life, an education, health, human rights”, he said. “It saddens me that politicians do not listen to citizens.” When he grows up he wants to be a politician.

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