When Mather High School senior Khan Ali arrives at the 26th United Nations Climate Summit in Glasgow on Sunday, he will be representing all Chicago Public Schools youth in the global conversation on climate change.
“I’m feeling excited and nervous. So much to do in so little time,” Ali, 19, of West Ridge, said as he prepared Friday for his 4 p.m. flight to Scotland on Saturday.
“We’re already at a point where if we don’t effect change right now, it’s going to be detrimental to my generation, and the current leaders are not taking enough action.”
The teen is traveling to Scotland as part of the Illinois delegation of “It’s Our Future.”
He joins four other youth from Oak Park and Evanston attending the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or COPS26. The youth-driven, climate justice program, “It’s Our Future,” is run by the 20-year-old, Oak Park-based environmental nonprofit, Seven Generations Ahead.
“I’m trying to find out what each country is going to do to mitigate climate warming, and since we’ll be right there amongst world leaders, I’m hoping to interview President Biden about how we can ensure that each and every single person in our country becomes well-informed about the climate crisis,” said Ali, one of two children of his Pakistani immigrant parents, Jamshaid and Chand Nasim.
Hosted by the United Kingdom and Italy, COPS26 will bring together world leaders, tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses and citizens from almost every country at a pivotal moment in the climate crisis.
In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its latest report, finding the earth is getting so hot that within a decade, temperatures will likely surpass the level of warming that world leaders, meeting annually at the summit, have sought to prevent.
The report, stipulating climate change is clearly human-caused, “unequivocal,” and an “established fact,” finds that climate warming — under each of five scenarios based on the level of carbon emission reductions globally — would still surpass the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree warming threshold by the 2030s, much earlier than past predictions.
“World leaders simply are not taking enough action to reduce the impact that is occurring with climate. So we need to make sure as youth, as representatives and stewards of our future, that we are pushing each of our nation’s delegates to make sure they and their colleagues are going to put forth policies aligned with reducing carbon emissions before it reaches the point where it is going to be irreversible,” said the CPS student.
This year’s conference occurs against a lack of progress on the 2015 Paris Agreement. Under that pact, for the first time ever, nations agreed to work together to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius — aiming for 1.5 degrees. The agreement also calls for adaptations to mitigate the impact of climate change, and funding for those efforts.
Nations committed to establishing a national plan for carbon emission reductions, and to update them every five years — which would have been 2020. But with the pandemic canceling last year’s summit, nations will reveal their updates at COPS26.
However, data shows earth has already warmed nearly 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Paris Agreement.
Youth from across the globe will be among an expected 30,000 attendees converging on Glasgow, looking to accelerate carbon reduction in the crucial decade leading up to 2030.
Ali and his fellow youth delegates will be right there among world leaders, granted observer status in spaces where global negotiations are taking place. On Thursday, they’ll participate in a global livestream event, “Youth Voices on Climate: COP26 & Beyond,” where youth in Chicago and around the world can make their voices heard from their hometowns.
Others in the local delegation are Lily Aaron from Evanston Township High School and Charlotte Meyer, Jelena Collins and Sophie Ball, all from Oak Park River Forest High School.
Through his high school, Ali participated last summer in a solar panel project held in collaboration with Seven Generations Ahead. When the organization reached out to extend a slot to one participant, his teacher, Peter Iselin, recommended him.
“When I got that call in August, I was speechless. I was like, ‘This is crazy. Really?’” said Ali.
“This is such an amazing opportunity to make a difference in the climate crisis. I have been watching videos and reading articles and reports on climate change, to learn what’s happening globally, and what various countries’ impacts are on our climate,” said Ali, who will present what he learned to fellow students when he returns.
“My ultimate goal, is to ensure climate curriculum is included in schools throughout the United States. And I hope to talk to President Biden about that.”