An estimated 100,000 protesters took to the streets in Glasgow, Scotland, this weekend to demand that world leaders meeting for a two-week-long United Nations climate change conference take stronger action to curb the global crisis. The first week of the conference was filled with flashy announcements about private investment in climate solutions and cooperative pledges to phase out coal, halt deforestation, and cut methane emissions. But plans from individual countries are still not enough to stave off the disastrous effects of climate change that could occur if the world heats more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.)
The protests ramped up over the course of last week, with climate activists young and old marching, staging performance art–like stunts, and generally keeping the pressure on world leaders to cut down on cheap talk and commit to real action to stabilize the climate.
On Monday, Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg marched with her Fridays for Future organization in a park near the COP26 conference center. “Inside COP there 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,” she said in a speech. “Change is not going to come from inside there. That is not leadership — this is leadership.”
Thunberg, along with Vanessa Nakate, Dominika Lasota, and Mitzi Tan — three other leading youth climate activists from around the world — also put out a letter Monday demanding that COP26 negotiators keep the promise of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) alive and end fossil fuel investments. It had 1.8 million signatures as of Monday, with the numbers ticking up by the second.
On Tuesday, the sardonic side of the climate movement came out, with protesters donning masks with the faces of world leaders and engaging in a fake fight over an inflatable globe. Others stood behind them wearing costumes meant to look like the violent guards from the Netflix show Squid Game and held a banner that read “World Leaders: Stop Playing Climate Games.”
Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion led hundreds in a march on the JP Morgan Chase building in Glasgow to protest the bank’s investment in fossil fuel projects, and a group called Ocean Rebellion staged a demonstration outside an oil refinery in the city, with some activists donning black robes and ghostly white faces, to demand near-term action on climate.
On Wednesday, protests continued, with marches in the streets, and a group of Extinction Rebellion members dressing in aprons and advertising their “greenwashing services.” Wednesday was “Finance Day” at the conference, and many protests targeted the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, which had announced that it had members with $130 trillion in assets pledging to fund climate action.
On Thursday, U.S. protesters met the arrival of Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland at COP26 with a message: Keep your promise to end fossil fuel leasing on public land and waters. The Biden administration is currently planning oil and gas lease sales across 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico and hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands.
Activists dressed as Pikachus marched throughout the city, demanding that the Japanese government stop financing coal projects overseas and phase out coal within the country by 2030. Neither Japan nor the United States signed on to a pledge by 46 countries to phase out coal power on Thursday.
Friday was technically “Youth and Public Empowerment Day,” and the crowd of people marching through the streets swelled to approximately 25,000. After marching just over a mile to a stage set up in a city square, several leading activists gave speeches. Indigenous youth from the Brazilian Amazon spoke about the destruction of local ecosystems and the murder of indigenous land defenders.
“Indigenous people are dying in the river; they’re being washed away by massive floods,” one speaker said. “Houses are being washed away, schools full of children inside, bridges, our food, our crops, everything is being washed away.”
Thunberg dismissed any progress conference organizers had announced throughout the week. “This is now a Global North greenwash festival,” she said. “A two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah blah blah.”
But Nakate, a Ugandan activist, urged the crowd to keep fighting. “We cannot give up now. We need to continue holding leaders accountable for their actions. We cannot keep quiet about climate injustice,” she said.
On Saturday, tens of thousands more people joined the fray in the cold and the rain in a march for climate justice.
Twenty-one scientists from a group called Scientist Rebellion were arrested after chaining themselves to a bridge in the city center. The protesters gave speeches debunking what they called myths coming out of the conference, like the idea that “planting a trillion trees will save us.”
COP26 will continue through Friday.