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‘How are the G7 different from Putin?’ asks Ukrainian climate activist

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany — If the G7 really cared about the future, of Ukraine or anywhere else, they wouldn’t be scrambling to fund new sources of fossil fuels.

That’s the message youth climate activist Ilyess El Kortbi has brought from Kharkiv, Ukraine to the G7 in Germany’s pine-clad Bavarian Alps.

For El Kortbi, fighting for the future has a macabre and twisted new meaning.

“I have already three dead friends,” Ilyess El Kortbi told POLITICO. Right now on a sunny afternoon, he can say it in a “calm way,” he said, but “I have often nightmares and hysterical crying.”

Along with El Kortbi, the trio had been founding members of a chapter of the Greta Thunberg-inspired Fridays for Future climate movement in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city which has suffered heavy damage from Russian bombardment.

“We’ve been together,” he said, “fighting for our future and three of them, they don’t have this future, just as they don’t have this life.” Another of his fellow climate activists is fighting on the front after being drafted.

The leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies are meeting in a luxurious resort eight kilometers uphill from the temporary media center in the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which is the closest activists like El Kortbi are allowed to get to the action.

The leaders met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy via videolink on Monday and offered their “unwavering” support for the country and their demand that it be able to “choose its own future.”

Ilyess El Kortbi speaking from Kharkiv, Ukraine to the G7 in Bavaria, Germany | Photo by Konrad Skotnicki

For El Kortbi that’s an absurd thing to say while Europe continues to spend roughly €800 million per day on Russian fossil fuel imports — all while the climate is breaking down. In a reminder of the latter, temperatures approached 30 degrees in the mountains on Monday. El Kortbi is hiding in a tent as he has a sun allergy — but that’s not why he became a climate activist, he said.

“We have a war in Ukraine, a climate war, a fossil-fuelled war, which is happening because of the same reason of the climate crisis. And they’re just continuing to spend on it. And they’re just accelerating the destruction,” he said.  

Fridays for Future are calling for an immediate embargo on Russian gas and a huge renewable energy stimulus.

The argument offered by Europe’s leaders — including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen whom Fridays for Future activists have met a handful of times — is that they are in total agreement that the root cause of their problems is fossil fuels.

But the financial pain of dropping energy from Russia without first securing alternative sources has left Europe stuck in the morally unsupportable position of financing a war they deplore. Meanwhile G7 host and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is pushing for funding to build gas projects to cover any shortfall.

That’s not enough for El Kortbi. “How G7 leaders are different from Putin if most of them think of profits?” he asked.

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