Youth activists protest against climate inaction at COP26

The rally led by Greta Thunberg comes as week one of the UN climate summit draws to a close amid calls for further commitments.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at a the "Fridays For Future" climate rally during COP26 [Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]

Youth activists are taking over the United Nations COP26 summit in Scotland to protest against what they say is a dangerous lack of action by leaders over climate change.

Two days of demonstrations, including a student march on Friday led by Greta Thunberg, were planned to highlight the disconnect between the glacial pace of emissions reductions and the climate emergency already swamping countries across the world, with thousands of people expected to take part.

“We’re expecting lots of people to come and join us in the streets, and not only youth but also adults supporting youth, and adults that want climate action,” activist Isabelle Axelsson, 20, with the youth movement Fridays for Future, which is organising the march, told Reuters news agency.

Friday’s rally came at the end of the first week of the COP26 talks in Glasgow.

The summit aims to secure enough promises from governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions – mainly from fossil fuels – to keep the rise in the average global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), which scientists say is a tipping point towards far more extreme weather events.

So far, the conference has yielded deals to try to phase out coal over the next three decades, reduce deforestation and curb methane – a far more potent, if short-lived, greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

It has also showcased a jumble of financial pledges, buoying hopes that national commitments to bring down emissions could actually be implemented.

Warming projections

The head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, said on Thursday that emissions cut pledges made so far – if all implemented – could potentially restrict warming to 1.8C (3.2F). But some UN negotiators and non-profit organisations said that assessment was too rosy, and much more work had to be done.

Campaigners also say the world’s biggest carbon emitters need to do much more. The Earth has already warmed by 1.1C (2F) above preindustrial levels.

Current projections based on planned emissions cuts over the next decade are for it to hit 2.7C (4.9F) by the year 2100.

Thunberg has been highly critical of COP26, calling it a “two-week celebration of business as usual and blah blah blah”. Addressing Friday’s rally, she said it was “not a secret” that the summit was a “failure”.

“This is no longer a climate conference. This is now a global greenwashing festival,” Thunberg told cheering crowds. She called for an end to “empty promises”, climate commitments that are “full of loopholes” and ones that ignore climate justice.

“And that’s all we are getting,” Thunberg said. “Our leaders are not leading. This is what leadership looks like,” she added, gesturing to the crowd.

‘Passion and anger’

Al Jazeera’s Nick Clark, reporting from Glasgow, said the rally was where all the “passion and anger” over climate change was in the city.

“Thousands of protesters are beginning to gather … and amongst their demands is a change to the system of these big UN climate conferences where thousands of delegates and politicians come from around the world, descend on a city for a bit, and then decide not very much,” Clark said earlier on Friday.

“They demand that their voices are heard, that the voice of young people is heard, because it is their future after all,” he added.

The rally came as the British president of the COP26 conference, Alok Sharma, urged national negotiators to push harder through Friday, with a week left to secure more ambitious commitments to stop the world’s slide into climate catastrophe.

“It is not possible for a large number of unresolved issues to continue into week two,” Sharma said in a note published by the UN.

Former vice president of the United States, Al Gore, and Sharma were due to sit down on Friday with campaign groups to discuss the progress made so far at the summit, and what remains unresolved.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies