World leaders have descended on Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for the UN’s annual Climate Change Conference, COP28

This year’s climate conference is taking place against a backdrop in which the effects of climate change are, to quote Zeke Hausfather, "gobsmackingly clear."

Wildfires in Argentina and Canada. Flooding in India, Cameroon, and Libya. Extreme heat across the US, Europe, and Asia. A cyclone in Myanmar. A tropical storm hitting Japan, Guam, the Philippines, and Taiwan. The list goes on

But while the international gaze is resting on world leaders, the work of activists and grassroots organizations from around the world on the fringes of the talks is just as important to highlight.

In the last decade, nearly 2,000 environmental activists have lost their lives defending our planet, with 177 deaths reported last year alone. These stark numbers show the perilous reality faced by those on the front lines of environmental protection, particularly in critical areas like the Amazon rainforest.

Despite their significant contributions to climate action and holding powerful entities accountable, environmental defenders are often excluded from key global discussions. COP28 presents a critical opportunity for governments to incorporate a human rights approach throughout all phases of climate action. This approach should recognize and address the link between the climate crisis and the escalating violence and repression against land and environmental defenders.

Here’s who to keep an eye on at the climate conference, and where you can find them on social media. 

1. Nyombi Morris

After floods destroyed his family’s farm in Uganda, Nyombi Morris started planting trees in his community and joined the climate justice nonprofit, Rise Up Movement, to search for climate solutions, before founding his own organization Earth Volunteers.

Follow Nyombi on Twitter.

2. Brianna Fruean

In 2021, Samoan climate campaigner Brianna Fruean told world leaders at the COP26 climate summit that, despite a torrent of corporate greenwashing, broken promises, and overall climate action reluctance, youth activists will never stop holding those in power to account and fighting for what is right. 

"We are not drowning; we are fighting," the 24-year-old told tens of thousands of leaders and delegates.

Since then, Fruean has been tirelessly working to bring small island representation, like for her home Samoa, into the global climate conversation, and to bring young, Pacific voices to the forefront of climate justice conversations. 

Follow 350 Pacific — a youth-led grassroots movement working with communities to fight climate change from the Pacific Islands — to keep up with what’s happening in the Pacific Pavilion at COP27 and listen to Fruean talking about youth climate advocacy in the Pacific on the Useful Outsiders podcast.

Follow Brianna on Twitter and Instagram.

3. Ineza Umuhoza Grace

Ineza Umuhoza Grace is a 27-year-old eco-feminist and impact-driven actor in the climate change and environment sector. Based in Rwanda, she is also a researcher in the field of climate change with a focus on climate justice and policies. 

She is the co-founder and global coordinator of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition — a coalition of over 600 youth from more than 60 countries, advocating and taking concrete action to address loss and damage.

Follow Ineza on Twitter and Instagram.

4. Mamadou Sylla

Mamadou is an environmental activist from Senegal with a strong interest and experience in climate justice issues, loss and damage, and non-formal education. He currently serves as the Advocacy Working Group coordinator of the LDYC. Additionally, he is the President of International Young Naturefriends, an international network dedicated to promoting environmental non-formal education.

Follow Mamadou on Twitter.

5. Shreya K.C

Shreya is a passionate Nepali socio-climate justice activist. Her work with a diverse group of young people across the world
focuses on championing the meaningful participation of youth in decision-making spaces.

Follow Shreya on Twitter.

6. Paul Chukwuma

A versatile multi-disciplinary researcher from Nigeria and a dedicated advocate for loss and damage finance, Paul has a keen interest in sustainability and climate change mitigation technology. He is a published author and serves as the Lead Curator at the Institute for
Knowledge, a research institution that nurtures young talents across the continent. 

7. Yoko Lu

Yoko Lu is a recent M.Sc. Environmental Biology graduate specializing in Environmental Policy. Involved in YOUNGO, the youth constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, she leads various initiatives, including the Nature and Health Working Groups, and serves as the Director of International Affairs and Policy Lead for the Ocean Working Group.

Follow Yoko on Twitter

8. Elizabeth Wathuti 

Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti opened the Opening Ceremony of the World Leaders Summit at the 2021 climate conference, COP26, by urging leaders to: "Open your hearts."

This year, Wathuti is centering the urgent conversation around loss and damage, which refers to the costs of recovering from climate impacts such as extreme storms, rising sea levels, severe droughts, and powerful wildfires that destroy lives, livelihoods, and vital infrastructure. 

Attending COP28 alongside a group of climate leaders, Wathuti is adamant about the importance of highlighting emerging voices, those that might not always get the spotlight, but whose work is crucial. 

Follow Wathuti on Twitter and Instagram

9. Vanessa Nakate

Vanessa Nakate is a Ugandan climate activist, the founder of the Rise Up Movement, the leader of Uganda's first Fridays for Future climate strikes, a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador, and more recently, Gates Foundation Global Goalkeeper Award Winner for 2022. But you might learn more about her by reading all the things that she’s not in her exclusive interview with Global Citizen.

Follow Vanessa on Twitter.

10. Ayisha Siddiqua

Ayisha Siddiqua is a Pakistani climate justice advocate and the co-founder of Fossil Free University and Polluters Out.

At cop27, she took to the New York Times’ Climate Forward stage (basically a COP side tent) to denounce the fact that women and children are paying the highest price for climate change in Pakistan.

“Because of this flood,” she told the audience, “women are two times more likely to experience domestic violence.” 

 Follow her on Twitter.

11. Mitzi Jonelle Tan

Mitzi Jonelle Tan is a Filipino climate justice activist. Under the Philippines former President, Rodrigo Duterte, Tan reveals, climate activists were called terrorists. But even before his presidency, the Philippines was one of the deadliest places in the world for environmental defenders. 

Tan is using her voice at COP28 to raise the issue of how the climate fight is being affected by authoritarian governments and the suppression of civil society (i.e. limitations on activists’ and advocates’ ability to protest and demonstrate safely), and whether or not climate action can thrive within corrupt systems. 

Follow her journey on Twitter

12. Alliance for Land, Indigenous, and Environmental Defenders

One person defending the environment is killed every other day, according to a report by Global Witness. 

The Alliance for Land, Indigenous, and Environmental Defenders (ALLIED) is working to ensure activists and advocates have the tools to protect themselves, strengthen government and business safeguards for defenders, and protect civil society actors who are addressing the root causes of threats and attacks on defenders.

Global Citizen Life

Defend the Planet

12 Climate Activists & Organizations to Watch at COP28

By Tess Lowery