Young climate activists denounce ‘youth-washing’ in Milan

MILAN (AP) — Young climate activists denounced Italian police for temporarily detaining delegates who protested peacefully inside their Milan conference before Italian Premier Mario Draghi’s speech.

Discontent with the three-day conference had bubbled from its start. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said the delegates had been “cherry-picked” and that organizers were not really interested in their ideas or input for a document that will be sent to this year’s United Nations climate conference.

But the frustration overflowed on the youth event’s final day, with minor clashes involving climate activists outside the venue and the police intervention with delegates inside. Half a dozen young activists demonstrated their disillusionment with world leaders’ response to global warming by flashing a cardboard sign reading “The Emperor Has No Clothes’’ at Draghi, and walking out before he addressed the group.

The delegates said police then detained them, asked to see their passports and photographed their conference badges. They said they were released after about 20 minutes, but the action left them shaken.

Saoi O’Connor, an Irish activist in the Fridays for Future movement founded by Thunberg, waved at reporters the well-worn cardboard sign that has carried in demonstrations since 2018 and had flashed at Italy’s leader.

“They are having police escort us to and from the building, and they are the same police who are brutalizing protesters and keeping our friends out,’’ O’Connor said. She criticized the document being finalized inside for the U.N. climate conference.

“They are going to say that this is what the youth movement wants,’’ she said. “And we will not let them.”

Danish delegate Rikke Nielsen estimated that at least one-third of the delegates were not happy with the process that had unfolded at the Milan conference.

Thunberg, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate and Italian activist Martina Comparelli delayed a news conference where they planned to discuss their private meeting with Draghi to ensure that the detained delegates were now free to move around.

In the end, Thunberg declined to speak to demonstrate discontent with police actions, organizers said.

“Come to the demo tomorrow,’’ the 18-year-old Swedish activist said. Thunberg plans to lead what is expected to be Milan’s largest climate demonstration on Friday.

Comparelli accused political leaders of both youth-washing and green-washing — using environmental terminology and recruiting youth activists to make their pledges for reducing greenhouse gas emissions seem legitimate.

“They cannot divide us into delegates, and non-delegates, into activists that can talk to prime ministers and activists that cannot talk to prime ministers. Activists who are stopped because they are raising cardboard, literally cardboard,’’ she said.

Comparelli said that Draghi was sincere in their private meeting but that she was suspending judgment until a Group of 20 summit scheduled to start in Rome on Oct. 30, the day before the U.N. climate conference begins in Glasgow, Scotland.

Nakate said the premier had promised to use Italy’s current position as the head of the G-20 to advance their demands that governments follow through on pledges to mobilize $100 billion each year from 2020 to 2025 to fight climate change.

“We are going to keep demanding for climate action, for a future that is livable a future, that is sustainable, a future that is equitable, a future that is healthy for all of us,’’ Nakate said outside the conference venue. “We cannot eat coal, we cannot drink oil and we cannot breath so-called natural gas.”