The much-anticipated COP26 is turning out mixed feelings from young activists.
Presided over by the U.K. this year, the U.N.-backed climate summit is in its final week of programming taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. But while negotiations on the main stage or “The Blue Zone,” where climate deal-making happens among the world’s elite, the public “The Green Zone” and outskirts of COP26 caused more of a stir over the weekend.
On Friday, the Greta Thunberg-speared youth climate organization Fridays for Future organized a 25,000-strong march in Glasgow, just a couple miles outside COP26’s Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow.
On Saturday, some 100,000 people gathered to protest COP26. Among the forefront were Indigenous climate leaders, national trade unions, Black Lives Matter protesters and Scottish independence groups.
“Behind every murder that happens in the Amazon, every killing that happens to a land defender, there is a company behind that, there is a government behind that, there is a name behind that,” said Helena Gualinga, an environmental and Indigenous rights defender, during the protest. Gualinga criticized the lack of media attention for Amazonian youth from Brazil and Ecuador, who led the protest.
Isaias Hernandez, founder of the Queer Brown Vegan educational platform, attended the marches on both Friday and Saturday saying the “energy was healing.” “There was music, dogs with climate strike posters and most importantly Indigenous leadership. People from across Glasgow came to march alongside us to show their support. It was raining, but it almost felt like the rain didn’t stop us, it rather blessed us to continue marching down. There were lots of hugs for people who it was their first time meeting in real life after being friends online for years.”
In all, Hernandez believes COP26 lacks equitable youth representation.
COP26 Coalition, a U.K.-based civil society coalition that spans hundreds of international organizers, among them Extinction Rebellion Scotland, helped organize the events. Spokesperson Asad Rehman offered the following statement: “We are taking to the streets across the world this weekend to push governments from climate inaction to climate justice. This has been the least accessible climate summit ever — with so many people sidelined at the talks or not able to make it in the first place,” adding that the protest Saturday allowed their voices to be heard.
The coalition launched a counter-summit Nov. 7 to 10 called “The People’s Summit for Climate Justice” which saw 12,000 registrations for its hybrid event meant to flip “the colonial script,” per the organization.
Also on Saturday, academic advocacy group Scientist Rebellion (a play off of Extinction Rebellion climate group) occupied King George V Bridge in Glasgow for hours on Saturday as a demonstration of COP26’s failings.
“COP is a pacifying tool that serves to bail out the existing power structure and prevent the radical change that is necessary,” said Kyle Topfer, environmental scientist from Sydney, in a statement tweeted by Scientist Rebellion. Topfer was one of the three activists who spent the night in jail after being arrested for the bridge blockade.
More demonstrations are in tow, and the city is preparing accordingly.
On Monday, assistant chief constable for Police Scotland Gary Ritchie provided an update on what to expect: “We have continued to engage with protest groups as we move into the final week of the conference and we are pleased with the positive engagement we have had. Further events are planned for this week, particularly on Wednesday which may result in some localized disruption for a short period as we look to facilitate a procession in the Govan area.”
Ritchie said officers facilitated eight protests Monday “which all passed without incident.” During COP26’s first week, Police Scotland confirmed to the BBC that fewer than 50 arrests were made at COP26. The department staffs 10,000 cops each day for the event.
Also on Monday, activists like Leah Thomas, founder of Intersectional Environmentalist, and Alexandria Villaseñor, claimed they were shut out of relevant programming (only a couple of tickets were awarded to each constituency), especially in regard to former President Barack Obama’s 45-minute speech at COP26 (which championed young people).
Today Pres. Obama is at #COP26, and apparently, he has a message for youth. But youth won't be in the room. There's no tix for most of us. Tix were limited to 2 per delegation or NGO, and the adults took them.
Theres no video link either.
Guess we'll watch it later on YouTube 🤷♀️
— Alexandria Villaseñor is at COP26! (@AlexandriaV2005) November 8, 2021
In a redress to young activists everywhere, Obama said: “I want you to stay angry. I want you to stay frustrated. But channel that anger. Harness that frustration. Keep pushing harder and harder for more and more. Because that’s what’s required to meet this challenge.”
WWD reached out to the U.N. for comment on how youth protests and sentiments are being received but did not hear back by press time.
A statement on the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change website said: “The organizations of the United Nations are committed to enabling events at which everyone can participate in an inclusive, respectful and safe environment.”