Off the west coast of Scotland, Greenpeace’s iconic Rainbow Warrior vessel – a modern sailing ship – has left the Irish Sea and is gliding into the Firth of Clyde, on course to sail up the river to deliver youth climate activists to the Cop26 summit in Glasgow before nightfall on Monday.
Despite warnings from the city’s port authorities not to proceed, the team had decided to defy the order to halt at Greenock, and instead wait for low tide in order to pilot the 55-metre-tall ship under the Erskine Bridge, and continue to Glasgow – however, at the 11th hour, they were officially granted permission.
As The Independent spoke to Greenpeace spokesperson Phil Richards, who is on board the vessel, the team were less than 30 miles from Glasgow and were negotiating having a pilot assigned to the boat specifically to bring the ship under the suspension bridge. It is a tight squeeze, with just three metres of headroom at low tide.
Rainbow Warrior is carrying four young climate activists who are members of Fridays for Future – the international movement founded by Greta Thunberg, made up of school pupils who miss lessons on Fridays to protest lack of action on the climate crisis.
The four are part of the Fridays for Future MAPA (most affected people and areas) branch, and come from Namibia, Uganda, Mexico and Bangladesh. They are demanding that world leaders “stop failing us”.
Greenpeace said they had provided the vessel in order to give a greater platform to “the young people from impacted communities around the world who are taking a stand, having been failed by the lack of climate action from governments, and who will continue to suffer the dire consequences of any further inaction”.
The activists say that the climate negotiations should not be taking place without the most impacted people there, yet failure by rich nations to distribute vaccines equally have left many activists shut out.
Onboard the Rainbow Warrior, 19-year-old climate activist Maria Reyes from Mexico, said: “From vaccines to visas and travel restrictions, we’ve already had to overcome many obstacles that the Cop26 organisers tried to use in an attempt to shut us out. But we’re here, we’re coming and we won’t be stopped.
“By denying us entry, these so-called ‘leaders’ are fanning the flames of inequalities. Enough empty speeches, there won’t be climate action without climate justice.”
Farzana Faruk Jhumu, 22, from Bangladesh, said: “If they think they can hold a climate summit that will decide our future without us present, they’ve got another thing coming. People from the most affected areas have been ignored for long enough.
Edwin Namakanga, 27 from Uganda, said: “World leaders should be rolling out the red carpet to people most affected by this crisis not denying us from making our way to Cop26. We’re only four activists but we’re representing millions and our voices must be heard.
“We’re suffering the consequences of a crisis we did not create and those with the power to deliver the climate policies needed to stop this injustice are the same people betraying us. It’s time to uproot the system.”
Namibian activist, Jakapita Kandanga, 24, added: “We’re tired of not being listened to and we’re tired of being ignored. Despite this, we have travelled long distances to be here, and some of us during our final exams, because we need a seat at the table during these climate talks.
“We are from the most affected areas and you cannot discuss and decide on our futures without us being present. We’ve been denounced as “hooligans” by our own “leaders” for speaking up for climate justice long enough. Our voices will be heard at Cop26.”
“This journey is all about them and their message,” Mr Richards told The Independent.
“Their communities are often misrepresented, their voices are not always heard by leaders, despite the fact they are the most impacted communities on the planet.
“We’re providing this passage and this platform on our most iconic vessel so that their voices can be heard. Hopefully leaders will listen to what they’ve got to say and act upon that.”
Asked why Greenpeace were taking the trouble to sail into Glasgow instead of using a more straightforward means of travel, Mr Richards told The Independent: “we could have helped the activists get there overland – by train or car or by bicycle – but they’d arrive at the conference and become yet another activist in the crowd. Their voices would not be lifted up, and they would not have the same platform of the scale and grandeur the Rainbow Warrior can provide. We really wanted to use this vessel – an icon of the environmental movement – to give that platform to lift their voices up so they can be heard.
“Yes we are having some disputes with the authorities about this journey, but we have done all of the background legal checks, and at the moment we are not breaching any laws.
“If we do break maritime laws then it is not the activists who are at fault, or any of the passengers on this ship. All of the legal risk is carried by Greenpeace as an organisation and the captain as the person in charge of the ship. We’re confident we’re not putting the activists in any danger whatsoever.”
Greenpeace said once the vessel arrives in Glasgow, a press conference will be held near the Cop26 conference centre, where the activists will deliver their messages to world leaders.
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