Akiak boy among those who filed legal complaint about climate change with a United Nations committee

Erosion in Akiak swallowed 75-100 feet of riverbank along the village on May 20, 2019.
Erosion in Akiak swallowed 75-100 feet of riverbank along the village on May 20, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ivan / City of Akiak)

Sixteen young people from a dozen countries filed a legal complaint about climate change with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The petitioners range in age from eight to 17. Their complaint alleges that five countries — Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey — are violating children’s rights by failing to curb fossil fuel emissions and reduce the effects of the climate crisis. The youth filed their complaint the same week the United Nations is convening for its Climate Action Summit in New York City.

One of the petitioners is a 17-year-old  from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. His name is Carl Smith.  He’s Yup’ik from Akiak.

Carl Smith, age 17, and his mother, Kimberly Smith of Akiak, returned to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta after traveling to New York City. Smith, along with 15 youths from around the world, filed a legal complaint alleging children’s rights violations from climate change. Mother and son are pictured in Bethel, Alaska on September 26, 2019. (Photo by Anna Rose MacArthur / KYUK)

On Sept. 23, Smith — along with the other petitioners — spoke at a press conference hosted by UNICEF — the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

“I’m here because climate change is affecting the way I live. It’s taking away my home, the land, and the animals,” he said.  When asked if he felt that the act of taking on the responsibility of fighting for climate action has stolen his childhood, Smith said yes.

“Because I can’t do my subsistence lifestyle anymore. We used to be able to go hunt, geese hunt, any kind of hunting, berry picking, and now they’re just disappearing,” he said.

Smith said he believes global leaders are delaying action on climate change because they don’t want to lose money.

“I think they should go see what it’s doing to the people in the little villages and the little cities,” he said.

Akiak, where Smith lives on the Kuskokwim River, is one of those little villages. It has undergone dramatic erosion in recent years, forcing people to move out of their houses as the encroaching riverbank threatens their safety.

Three of the other petitioners are from the Marshall Islands and another is from Palau.  Each described their islands sinking beneath a rising and warming ocean.

At the end of the press conference, Smith gave this final message.

“Everyone needs to act now, because if we don’t act now, then all of us are going to lose our homes,” he said. “We’re going to lose everything. Would you guys want to lose your homes?”

A global youth school strike is planned for Sept. 27 to demand world leaders create policy to arrest the climate crisis. Smith marched in a similar strike last week in New York City.

KYUK - Bethel

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