In Davos, Ecuadoran activist seeks end to fossil fuel addiction

Ecuadoran Amazon activist Helena Gualinga has come to the meeting of global elites in the Swiss Alpine village of Davos with a clear message: companies must stop new fossil fuel projects.

Gualinga, 20, has become a spokesperson for her Kichwa Sarayuku indigenous community and its struggle against oil companies in the rainforest.

This week, she joined fellow young climate activists Greta Thunberg of Sweden, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda and Luisa Neubauer of Germany in launching a petition billed as a "cease and desist notice".

The petition demands that energy CEOs "immediately stop opening any new oil, gas, or coal extraction sites".

"We are from different parts of the world but we are fighting for the same purpose," Gualinga told AFP on Tuesday at the annual World Economic Forum.

"It is a call to say 'enough is enough' because we have said it many times. We need urgent action," she said.

The online petition -- which warns that citizens around the world will consider taking legal action to hold companies accountable -- has garnered more than 800,000 signatures since its launch earlier this week.

"We have to leave oil under the earth," Gualinga said.

"The rights of indigenous communities are very important in this regard."

- 'Can't trust states' -

A decade ago, the Sarayaku community won a landmark case at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which ruled that the Ecuadoran state had violated their rights to be consulted when oil exploration rights were granted on their land.

"I think this shows the world that such a small community but so well organised can manage to expel a company, can ensure that its rights are respected," Gualinga said.

Despite her efforts on fossil fuels, Gualinga doubts she will see results in forums such as the UN's COP climate talks.

The last meeting in November, COP27 in Egypt, ended without commitments to phase out fossil fuels.

The next talks will be hosted later this year in the United Arab Emirates, which appointed the head of the national oil company as president of COP28.

"We cannot trust states to reach agreements that really manage to mitigate and stop climate change," Gualinga said.

"We know where this fight is headed. Indigenous peoples have been doing this since the first colonisation," she said, hoping that her community will one day obtain autonomy with territories with clear borders.