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This past Friday around 10,000 protesters marched on the Glasgow city centre to mark the end of the first week of COP26.
A youth-focused event headlined by participation from teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, the protest was a statement against global inaction on climate change. The march was organized by the NGO Fridays for Future and aimed to put pressure on the leaders debating the climate response inside.
“Collective action, especially by young people is what will achieve true action,” Malaika Collette, 18, an organizer with Climate Strike Canada, told The Weather Network. “So far during COP26, we have seen world leaders come and go within a span of two days, leaving not much more than pretty speeches and empty promises as in every other COP.”
“People power is needed to keep the pressure on politicians and show the world that young people will not stop fighting and demanding justice,” Collette added.
Children at Jokulsarlon Lagoon in Iceland. (stockstudioX/ E+/ Getty Images)
The mood on the ground during the protest was reported as one of frustration, urgency, and impatience with the bureaucratic proceedings of the COP summit carrying on behind closed doors—where the old guard, like activist Al Gore and John Kerry, in his role as US climate envoy, were engaged in the proceedings.
Just as the climate crisis was brought about by older generations only to become the burden of the future, the youth march put on display intergenerational tensions.
“Fridays for Future is entirely youth-led and represents how we are striking for our future,” Collette said. “We organize these strikes ourselves because nobody else will. We know we have no time left to waste and it is our future at stake.”
The urgency felt in the crowd had been building all week. In Glasgow, protesters have assembled for other rallies and marches—even as the Greenpeace protest ship Rainbow Warrior made its way along the River Clyde toward the COP26 venue—and climate protests have been afoot across the globe, with some of the largest in Germany, Italy, and India.
But the march was not all doom and gloom. An assembly of students there—teenaged and younger—prevailed with a hopeful, inclusive spirit despite the serious agenda. Youth accompanied by their parents sang together, chanted, and held aloft colourful signs.
The energy reached a pitch with the introduction of Thunberg, who addressed the crowd at George Square. “We cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place,” Thunberg stated to those gathered.
“We need immediate, drastic annual emission cuts unlike anything the world has ever seen,” Thunberg added. “As we don’t have the technological solutions that alone will do anything even close to that, that means we will have to fundamentally change our society.”
Other youth activists, in collaboration with Thunberg, launched a petition calling on global leaders to achieve the 1.5°C threshold of warming from the Paris agreement, quickly shift from fossil fuel economics, and provide $100 billion (US) to address climate disasters and adaptation.
More than 1.5 million people have signed the petition.
While a vision of such sweeping change seems unlikely to be achieved by the policies being written behind the summit doors, the protest created space and attention for these grander possibilities.
“Our goal here at COP26 is to raise awareness of environmental racism and provide diversity among the groups assembling and represent the Black youths of Canada,” Tyjana Connolly, an intern with the Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice, told The Weather Network.
Connolly continued, “If people understood how environmental racism relates to different aspects of their health and well-being—why do their kids have asthma or why the women in their family are more likely to have cancer?—they may be motivated to mobilize and demand more from political leaders.”
This gathering of children and grandparents, students and activists offers a new angle on the global climate summit that Thunberg has called “a global north green wash festival.”
The question is one of stakes, and there is no doubt the stakes are higher for the contingent that gathered in George Square than it is for those leaders playing politics and PR inside.
“We are literally marching and chanting for our lives,” Collette told The Weather Network.
“Young people are the ones that will be most impacted by this crisis and therefore we will not be silent.”
Thumbnail credit: LeoPatrizi/ E+/ Getty Images