An estimated 25,000 protesters – many of whom were children and young people – gathered in Glasgow city centre on Friday to call on the privileged and powerful leaders inside the halls of Cop26 to act faster on the climate crisis.
Among them were some of the most recognisable faces of the Fridays For Future (FFF) school strike movement including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda, and Mitzi Jonelle Tan from the Philippines.
Several hours after a jubilant crowd began to gather on the sunny but cold afternoon, Ms Thunberg took to the stage. She began by calling Cop26 a “failure” and accused world leaders of actively creating loopholes to benefit themselves and to “continue profiting from this destructive system”.
“This is no longer a climate conference,” she said. “This is now a global north greenwash festival, a two-week-long celebration of business as usual and ‘blah, blah, blah’.”
She added: “The most affected people in the most affected areas still aren’t heard, and the voices of future generations are drowning in their greenwash and empty words and promises.”
Other speakers delivered powerful messages to the crowd. Scottish researcher and activist Fraser Stewart said it was a fallacy that working-class people did not care about the climate crisis. “The climate crisis is the same problem as poverty and inequality,” he said. “It means uprooting the same broken system together... we know there is power in solidarity.”
He added: “From Dundee to Dakar... Aberdeen to the Amazon, this is our fight.”
“Cop26 stop your bulls***,” the penultimate speaker, Ina-Maria Shikongo of FFF Africa, concluded after calling out the destruction wreaked by oil companies on the African continent. “You cannot keep on coming to our countries claiming that you are bringing development when all that you are bringing is devastation and poisoning our waters.”
Among the first to arrive in the square at around 12.30pm were a group of Glasgow primary school children and their parents.
Andre Piacentini, 11, his nine-year-old brother Luca, and their cousin, Arlo, 10, were part of the gathering – and all three said they “always worry” about climate change.
“We’re taking a day off school to try and make a difference because after Cop26 there’s nothing else we can do,” Andre told The Independent.
He also had a message for the world leaders at Cop26. “They need to try really hard to make this work. Because this is the final shot. It would be great if it worked out.”
Arlo added: “Climate change is getting out of control. I’m protesting because of Cop26. Climate change is taking time out of people’s days to protest when Cop26 should be dealing with it already.”
Teresa Piacentini, mother to Andre and Luca, said that joining the protest was an important lesson for their children. “We wanted to send this message that climate injustice is related to social injustice and racial injustice,” she said, adding that “tt’s part of the wider education that we are trying to pass on to our kids about the present and the future but also understanding the past”.
Several groups of Indigenous protesters including from communities in Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico took the stage too. They demanded a seat at the table in the Cop26 as “protectors of the world’s ecosystems”.
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was called out by name for his government’s policies that have led to vast deforestation across the Amazon. “Liar, liar, our forests are on fire,” called out protesters from the Jiboiana group of Latin America.
On the other side of the square, climate protesters from groups including Extinction Rebellion donned large paper-mache masks of world leaders including Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, “feasting” at a dinner table on the world’s resources.
The performers ate “burnt alaska” and “arctic melt” while sipping on wine in front of a large banner that read: “It’s time to stop dining out on fossil fuels and biodiversity loss”.
“The idea is that the performers as world leaders are feasting on the world’s resources and when the bill comes, nobody wants to pay it. We’ve consumed everything but we’re not going to pay out for the effect we’ve had,” explained Bim Mason, 68, a teacher and director of physical theatre, who helped bring the performance piece to Glasgow.
Other performers included Glasgow’s SambaYaBamba youth street band which involves primary school students and up to those in their early twenties. Kayla-Megan Burns, 22, from Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, joined the band after arriving in Glasgow to study biomedical sciences at Strathclyde University.
“It was important for us to come out as we are a youth band and for all of our members this is going to be their future,” she told The Independent. “I want to be optimistic. I want to believe it will change things... but I’m conscious if we’re too hopeful then we may end up being disappointed.”
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