The young Afghan environmentalist was selected as one of 100 ‘green ticket’ winners by the UN. But he couldn’t attend the summit as the US denied his entry saying he was ineligible for a nonimmigrant visa.

Nasratullah Elham, 17 year-old climate change activist cleaning up the mangrove forest in Thailand.
Nasratullah Elham, 17 year-old climate change activist cleaning up the mangrove forest in Thailand. (Nasratullah Elham / Twitter)

“My climate activism started when the floods hit western Afghanistan and hundreds of families were evacuated...All their livestock were lost. Their shelters were lost, ” Nasratullah Elham,17, told Democracy Now in an interview on September 20. 

“And that made me concerned with the reason and cause of the flood...that’s why I started to have a voice and to act as a climate activist,” he said. 

Due to his activism, Elham was invited to the first-ever UN Youth Climate Summit in New York on September 21 as one of more than 500 young climate activists worldwide. But he was denied a visa by the US embassy in Bangkok, where he continues his studies on a full scholarship.

Elham says the visa officer at the embassy immediately told him that he didn’t qualify for a visa after looking at his documents. His rejection letter said the teenager was “ineligible for a nonimmigrant visa under Section 214(b) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act”.

If given a visa, Elham would be travelling to New York as one of the 100 ‘green ticket’ winners from 100 countries after the UN selected 100 from 7,000 applicants. The UN fully covers the expenses of the participants' carbon-neutral travel to New York. Eighty-seven of those who were selected were granted a visa.

The summit’s aim is to provide a platform for young climate leaders to showcase their solutions on a global stage and engage directly with decision-makers on an increasingly urgent issue.

"I was really happy that I finally found an opportunity that helped me to represent the world conflict areas in a conference where they are talking about defining issues of our time,” Elham said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

"Every country has the right to protect its borders and do whatever it needs to do. But when the politics get in the way of something that is apolitical like climate, it just feels like we've missed a real opportunity," he said.

Prior to being selected as one of the 100 outstanding young climate champions by the UN, Elham founded the Laghman Peace Volunteers (LPV) initiative to raise awareness of climate change, especially in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, through workshops and meetings with high-level officials. He also proposed projects to reduce methane gas emissions and prevent deforestation.

Another teen, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, meanwhile delivered a powerful message at the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23.

Elham backed Greta Thunberg, saying: “Greta is the name of a power, she doesn’t beg world leaders she forces them to respect Mother Earth.”