Demonstrators Call for Climate Justice Ahead of UN Talks

Main photo: Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans in front of the National Theater in downtown Tunis on November 22, 2019. Photo by George Gale.

Demonstrators Call for Climate Justice Ahead of UN Talks

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Tunis – George Gale, Hanen Zrig, & Ghaya Ben Mbarek

On Friday, November, 22, demonstrators gathered outside the National Theatre on Bourguiba Avenue in downtown Tunis to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change.

The Tunisian branch of the international group Youth for Climate, an international movement started in Belgium earlier this year, organized the demonstration.  A so-called global climate strike is set to take place on the 29th of November as part of a hashtag movement called #FridaysForFuture, however, since many Tunisian students will be taking exams on that day, Youth for Climate held their demonstration on the 22nd instead.

This latest round of global demonstrations are intending to put pressure on world leaders attending the 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as COP25, set to begin in Madrid on 2nd December.

“We’re asking the Tunisian minister of environment or whoever will represent Tunisia to push countries who are contributing to the climate crises, such as the US, China and Europe, to address the issue and take concrete action to help the African world to adapt to the climate crises,” said Rima Rahmani, co-founder of Youth For Climate – Tunisia.

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans in front of the National Theater in downtown Tunis on November 22, 2019. Photo by George Gale.

While other countries have seen regular demonstrations to draw attention to climate change,  Friday’s gathering marked only the second time the Tunisia chapter of Youth For Climate organized a demonstration. The demonstration is also the first held since the recent national elections, and demonstrators hope that their action can force the hand of new legislators to prioritize climate action.

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans in front of the National Theater in downtown Tunis on November 22, 2019. Photo by George Gale.

“The government is still getting formulated and we are still not sure of their choice of the environment minister. So, we want to push them and encourage them to address the climate issue and implement some climate correction measures,” Rahmani told Meshkal.

About 40 people showed up on Friday, a similar number as the last time such a demonstration was held on September 20. However, there were  some national media outlets covering this latest demonstration this time.

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans in front of the National Theater in downtown Tunis on November 22, 2019. Photo by George Gale.

One participant explained that people in Tunisia generally have trouble relating to climate change.

Speaking to Meshkal, Hachem Hfaiedh, an English major post-grad taking part in the demonstration explained that while traveling to the protest, people questioned why he and fellow demonstrators weren’t more concerned about the state of the economy, particularly with the rate of inflation increasing the price of basic foodstuffs which is making everyday life for Tunisians difficult.

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans in front of the National Theater in downtown Tunis on November 22, 2019. Photo by George Gale.

Hfaiedh said he appreciated the importance of such economic issues, and he stressed that younger Tunisians can’t simultaneously focus on these issues as well as their own personal development and education, so long as the existential dangers posed by climate change hang over their future.

“Why do you want to pursue a career or education if you’re not sure that you’re going to be alive in 10 or 20 years?” Hfaiedh asked.

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans in front of the National Theater in downtown Tunis on November 22, 2019. Photo by George Gale.

Lina Dhahri, a member of Stop Pollution, an environmental activist group from Gabes who supported and took part in the demonstration, commented that the relatively low turnout of the protest doesn’t concern her too much.

“The number really doesn’t matter as much as the diversity we’ve seen today among the crowd and the media coverage we’ve received. People were asking us and interviewing us. What matters the most is that we’re doing it,” she said.

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans in front of the National Theater in downtown Tunis on November 22, 2019. Photo by George Gale.

Oumaima Makni, a master’s student and one of the organizers of the event explained why it is important to keep the climate conversation going in Tunisia as the effects of climate change begin to become clearer. She said unseasonal weather events that combine with a lack of infrastructure development pose a significant danger in Tunisia. Makni referred to the case of Maha Gadhgadhi, an 11-year-old girl who recently drowned in floods in Jendouba. Makni also noted that environmental damage poses a danger to Tunisians, such as beaches becoming more and more polluted from chemical waste dumped by factories into the Mediterranean sea.

Not everyone at the demonstration was totally convinced of the immediate urgency of climate change.

“My daughter always tells me that we have to be in a state of panic, because our planet is dying, and everything. Sometimes I worry about her because I think she can be extreme, and I think it’s good the fact that she meets other youngsters,” said Hajer, a mother of one of the protesters, Oumaima Bouzayen who is a member of Youth For Climate.

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans in front of the National Theater in downtown Tunis on November 22, 2019. Photo by George Gale.

Hajer told Meshkal she and her daughter had traveled from Sfax to attend the protest.

Khayreddine Debaya, a founder of Stop Pollution who also attended the demonstration, told   Meshkal that he thinks the biggest threat to Tunisia’s climate issue is that the government is not taking a leading role in the fight against climate change.

“The government is just a passive listener, and I think our climate and environmental issues cannot be solved by just listening. The government should really take measures, set programs, establish projects and laws, adopt strategies, make reforms in the ministry of environment in a very clear way. Attending conferences with civil society is not enough,” Debaya said.