Meet the Young Activist Suing the UK Government Over Climate Change

Daze Aghaji is one of a pair of activists taking the government to court for its inaction on the climate crisis.
Daze Aghaji. Photo: Molly Lipson
Daze Aghaji. Photo: Molly Lipson

Daze Aghaji, a 21-year-old climate justice activist from London, is one of two plaintiffs suing the UK government for failing to take adequate measures to tackle the climate crisis. Along with Peter Garforth, 77, from Skipsea, east Yorkshire, Aghaji claims that the government has failed to meet its last two carbon budgets – a capped amount of carbon emitted over a five-year period – creating a wide gap between climate policy and the reality of the country’s emissions.

Advertisement

Aghaji is a seasoned climate justice campaigner. In 2019, aged 19, she ran for MEP as a Climate and Ecological Emergency Independent candidate at the European elections as the youngest candidate ever to do so, and has volunteered with Extinction Rebellion and its youth branch for a number of years. She is currently a Trustee at the Blagrave Trust, which provides funding to youth charities, and the Creative Director of Earthrise Studios, an online platform focusing on climate education.

She’s been involved in activism, protest, campaigning, public speaking and advocacy for years, but believes passionately in the power of combining this work with policy work. “We need to make sure we hit enough pressure points in order to make the system have to change. I think this can happen from outside of the system, like by protesting, and from internally, like taking legal action. Doing both at the same time creates that level of pressure to force the system to a point where it has no choice but to change.”

The pair are crowdfunding to cover the legal costs of their lawsuit, which will increase if they lose. This case is deeply personal for Aghaji. She believes that her and her family’s human rights are being violated by the government’s failure to adequately reduce its emissions. She has experienced adverse health effects due to the high levels of pollution where she lives in London, struggling with a number of complex allergies, low immune system and asthma.

Advertisement

She says the lives of her family based in Nigeria are also being tragically impacted. “My family's from the Niger Delta region, which has been destroyed by oil companies. And it’s not just the oil spills, it’s the politics around the oil spills, and the politics around ecocide [severe and widespread devastation to the natural world], and the killing of Indigenous activists.”

Peter Garforth. Photo: Courtesy of Daze Aghaji

Peter Garforth. Photo: Courtesy of Daze Aghaji

For Garforth, the case is one of survival. He lives in Skipsea, the fastest eroding coastline in Northern Europe. Nine houses on his street have already been lost due to coastal erosion, and his is next in line to go. Garforth is an elderly man who will be forced into homelessness once his house falls into the sea. The UK’s lack of support for those who are on the frontlines of climate destruction means that Garforth will be one of many left flailing in the wake of eroding coastlines, rising sea levels and worsening flooding.

Aghaji and Garforth joined forces earlier this year to stand up for those who, like them, are already being gravely affected by the climate crisis, both in the UK and globally. Represented by Hausfeld solicitors, the pair filed their lawsuit on the basis that the government’s goal to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 is not only drastically too late to prevent the devastating effects of climate breakdown, but that it won’t be met under the government’s current plans.

Advertisement

The government’s latest carbon budget, released in the few weeks leading up to the summit of COP26 in Glasgow, has not allayed the activist’s concerns. Its primary focus is one that Aghaji is particularly concerned about, the notion of “net zero”. Net zero emissions describes the point at which the amount of carbon we emit into the atmosphere and the carbon we take out is equal, therefore netting zero. This relies heavily on what is known as carbon capture technology, technology whose safety and efficacy is hotly disputed by scientists and activists alike. 

“To have [these technologies] play such a central role in our strategy is a gamble,” says Chaitanya Kumar, head of environment and green transition at the New Economics Foundation. The Global CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage] Institute, an international think tank with the aim of accelerating the uptake of carbon capture technology, has stated that we would need to increase our current capture capacity by more than a hundredfold to reach net zero by 2050. Aghaji believes that this reliance on technology that has not yet been tested at scale and is not even fully developed yet, is far too precarious a strategy when the current and future existence of humanity is at stake. “We can't afford to continue to put our future at risk,” she says.

The effects of the exponentially rapid rate of global warming that we have been experiencing since the Industrial Revolution are devastating for people around the world. Crops are failing and extreme weather events are worsening, destroying communities and the land they live and rely on for survival. Those worst affected around the world – and domestically – tend to be marginalised and oppressed communities who are the least responsible for causing the problem in the first place.

When comparing the UK’s emissions to that of the rest of the world, commentators will often imply that the brunt of lowering emissions should fall on the highest emitters, namely China and India. Aghaji is clear that this blame approach is not a worthwhile discussion. “Let’s not forget who started this mess – it was us. We were the ones who started the beginnings of colonialism, the beginnings of capitalism. We have to ask ourselves whether we should be trying to push blame on countries which are just trying to develop out of the colonial past that we've put upon them. We have a moral responsibility to do more because we are the ones who caused this. And we are definitely not the ones who are paying the real consequences and cost of what we've done.”

Aghaji is clear in her message to the British government: “When you're not doing enough to protect us, when you're not doing enough to put our safety at the forefront of every decision, we need to call you out on it.”

Correction: This story originally referred to Daze Aghaji as  a defendant. She is a plaintiff. We regret the error.