Youth Climate Activists Detained By Police After Walking Out of Conference in Protest

Delegates who peacefully protested on the last day of the Youth4Climate conference in Milan were detained by police prior to Italian Premier Mario Draghi's speech, the Associated Press reported.

The delegates inside said police 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.

Climate activists outside the event denounced the police on behalf of the delegates inside. The host of the event, Italian Environmental Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani, said he did not have details of the police action.

Cingolani said it appeared to have involved the premier's security detail and be related to tight security around the event.

"There was no violence whatsoever. At the end of the day, it was peacefully fixed,'' Cingolani told a closing press conference.

Since the beginning of the three-day conference, frustration from young activists was evident. A half-dozen young activists demonstrated discontentment with world leaders' response to the climate crisis by flashing a cardboard sign reading, "The Emperor Has No Clothes" at Draghi, and walking out before he addressed the group.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said 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. Thunberg said delegates for the conference had been "cherry-picked."

For more reporting by the Associated Press, see below:

Greta Thunberg Youth4Climate Conference
Delegates who peacefully protested on the last day of the Youth4Climate conference were detained by police prior to Italian Premier Mario Draghi's speech. Above, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg delivers a speech during the opening plenary of the Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition event on September 28, 2021, in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

Saoi O'Connor, an Irish activist in the Fridays for Future movement founded by Thunberg, waved at reporters the well-worn cardboard sign that he 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. She said they pushed to include a demand that fossil fuels be abolished by 2030.

The document itself was not yet completed at the end of the conference. Organizers said the youth delegates wanted to fine-tune it and had until October 25. Organizers also chafed against suggestions that it was pre-written, saying it was a compilation of suggestions they had received from delegates going into the meeting, and that the three days had been spent hammering out details.

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 "youth-washing" and "green-washing"—that is 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 October 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."

Not all the youth delegates were unhappy with the process. Iraqi delegate Reem Alsaffar, 21, thanked organizers for the opportunity to meet other delegates from countries like hers that are under-represented in the climate discussion.

"I think this event really, really gave us a new chance for hope for representing our countries bringing our thoughts and talents to the spotlight,'' she told a closing presser alongside Cingolani and Britain's Alok Sharma, the president of the Glasgow meeting, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference.