GLASGOW, Scotland — The security perimeter around the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, known as COP26, is ironclad. It’s surrounded by metal gates, with each point of entry guarded by armed police in yellow vests, and registered attendees must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken that day and a government-issued ID card, in addition to their credentials to share space with dignitaries and world leaders. On Sunday, the discovery of an unaccompanied bag led to an hourlong lockdown in which no one could enter.
Across the street, however, or in this case right across the River Clyde, is a world apart. And that’s where a hundred activists from Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future youth movement and the loosely aligned group Extinction Rebellion gathered in a park to mock the dignitaries and leaders assembled inside for what they consider to be empty rhetoric and inadequate action to combat climate change.
“This COP26 is just like the previous COPs,” said Thunberg, an 18-year-old from Sweden, to the mostly young crowd in the park. “Inside COP, they are just politicians and people in power pretending to take our future seriously, pretending to take the present seriously of the people who are being affected already today by the climate crisis. Change is not going to come from in there.
“That is not leadership. This is leadership!” Thunberg proclaimed, referring to the scruffy activists waving placards with slogans like “Planet over profit” and “This is a climate emergency.”
Many also held signs that were intended as a warning to the government representatives in Glasgow for the conference, with phrases such as “We are watching you” and “What will be your wake up call?”
“We say, ‘No more blah blah blah,’” Thunberg said. “No more exploitation of people and the planet.” She led the crowd in a chant of “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Thunberg’s previous denunciation of world leaders such as President Biden for making lofty commitments but failing to translate them into concrete action inspired many of those in attendance on Monday, some of whom held a wide banner reading, “No more blah blah, your greed our death.”
A group came dressed as faceless empty suits holding signs saying “Blah blah blah.” Each of them wore a black suit, a plain white masquerade mask and a name card for one of the top government officials attending COP26, including Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. “Greta explained that all the world leaders are doing at the moment is talking about climate action, but they’re not delivering on it,” one of the masked protesters, who declined to give her name but said she came from Bath, England, told Yahoo News.
“What we need is we need action now. We don’t need it in 2060, we don’t need it in 2050,” she continued. “We need it before 2030, and that has to happen now. We’re at the point where the climate is tipping into catastrophe.”
Laura Amherst, from Brighton, England, wore a mesh bodysuit that left little to the imagination. It was dappled in skull-and-crossbones images, intended to signify the threat of potentially deadly toxic pollution. Amherst is a well-known activist in the U.K. with a dual mission: to urge action against climate change and to oppose sexism and combat body shaming. “It’s about raising the visibility of this message and making it more accessible to different groups that wouldn’t necessarily pay attention to the climate crisis,” she told Yahoo News.
Some demonstrators came from much farther away. Kevin Mtay, 26, traveled from Nairobi, Kenya, “to fight for my rights, to fight for climate justice.” Mtay came with a climate activist called MAPA, which stands for “Most Affected People and Areas.”
After an energetic rally and a brief march accompanied by drummers to the riverfront, from where the Scottish Event Campus, at which COP26 is being held, was visible, young activists from developing nations held a press conference.
Every speaker appeared to be under the age of 30, with one in particular — a cherubic 12-year-old from Colombia named Francisco Vero — who is too young to vote in his home country. Vero spoke in Spanish, but the others all addressed the crowd in English as they emphasized their as-yet-unmet demands for “climate justice.” That is the term they use to mean aggressive action by rich countries not only to curb their own greenhouse gas emissions, but also to provide funding for developing countries to develop their economies sustainably and adapt to climate change’s effects, and even to give reparations for the harm that climate change is causing.
To illustrate their point, many spoke of the devastating impact climate change is already having on their home countries.
“Africa is suffering some of the worst effects of climate change,” said Evelyn Acheman of Uganda. “To us, the present is already catastrophic. We wake up to floods every day. We walk in the hot sun every day, and we are not responsible for this.”
Sub-Saharan Africa, she pointed out, produces only 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and has contributed just 0.5 percent of the historical emissions total. Acheman called for compensation for the victims of climate-related extreme weather events and led a chant of “Keep it in the ground,” meaning ending all fossil fuel extraction.
Many of the reporters assembled were apparently distracted by the arrival of Thunberg on the sidelines. She did not speak at the press conference, but the cameras and attention that turned to her while Nicki Becker from Argentina spoke enraged the event’s emcee, who shouted, “Nicki is here! We’re saying don’t ignore marginalized people.”
“When we talk about climate change, we’re talking about basic human rights, like the right to clean water, to sanitation and even the right to life,” Becker said in her prepared remarks. “Since we don’t have a vote in there, we’re saying what we want out here. Our eyes are on COP26: Do not let us down.”
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