GLASGOW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Schoolteacher Claire Birmey had never joined a climate change protest before – but on Wednesday she strapped her baby daughter Nora to her chest and marched with hundreds of chanting Extinction Rebellion activists through central Glasgow.
“I have to do this, for her future. You have to take a stand,” said the 40-year-old in a green knitted cap, toting a homemade sign urging leaders at the nearby COP26 U.N. climate talks to “Tell the Truth”.
As negotiators from nearly 200 nations work to establish the rules and find the finance to turn a rash of global net-zero emissions pledges into reality, activists – unable to get passes or tickets to enter the main COP26 venues – have found other ways to have a voice during the talks.
Representatives of environmental groups have also struggled with limited access to the U.N. negotiations, they said, and were shut out of areas where key political discussions happen, on Monday and Tuesday while world leaders were at the summit.
They are now allowed to enter those parts of the conference center, but Sébastien Duyck, a senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law, said there was concern that caps on numbers in the main rooms may leave them unable to participate and influence outcomes when the going gets tough.
“The fact that we are operating in the COVID context has completely changed the way we can put the premises at your disposal,” U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa told journalists on Wednesday, adding fewer people could be catered for in the venue and at the security gates, leading to big queues.
Outside the talks, Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future peers this week rallied in a park in one of Glasgow’s poorer areas, while Extinction Rebellion activists protested outside a dinner for world leaders and led street marches.
A group of young climate activists also have sailed Greenpeace’s famed ship, the Rainbow Warrior, up the River Clyde to a spot near the conference center.
Major protests, expected to draw tens of thousands, are planned for Saturday in Glasgow at the midpoint of the talks, with police in high-visibility vests, some on horseback, already out in force in the city.
‘Now or never’
Jacob Karlsson, 26, an activist from Sweden who joined the Extinction Rebellion march, said he had come to Glasgow because “it’s now or never” to win action to curb planetary heating, as climate impacts grow more evident and dangerous worldwide.
He said what negotiators needed to produce was something not even on the table at the Glasgow talks – legally binding commitments to slash emissions in the short-term.
Many nations and companies are instead pledging only action by 2050 or later – and commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change are voluntary.
With anything short of binding targets, “I really doubt they’re going to be able to convince me” they are serious about making changes to protect people and nature, Karlsson said.
Still, “I think they feel the pressure” from protesters, he added, pointing to a speech by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the opening of the talks, saying, “it’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now”.
“That wouldn’t have happened without the climate movement,” Karlsson said.
Sue, 63, an activist from Brighton who did not want to give her surname, stood on the steps of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Wednesday hefting a giant drawing of an eye.
“We are scrutinising what the world leaders are doing – and we will oppose them if they do the wrong thing,” the 63-year-old promised, as a phalanx of police kept watch nearby.
She joined the Extinction Rebellion climate movement because she felt failure to act on surging climate threats would hurt the world’s poor most, which was in turn likely to drive more migration and conflict, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Changes need to happen really soon. This is about the future of all people,” she said. “I can’t do nothing.”
Claire Harrison, 40, an activist from England’s Cornwall region, said she feared negotiators might make promises of action in Glasgow that they wouldn’t follow through on later.
“You can get motivated here – but when you go back to your own country it’s easy to forget,” she said, as a group of drummers beat out a rhythm nearby, amid protesters waving flags marked with Extinction Rebellion’s hourglass symbol.
Lucy, 52, another protester who did not want to give her surname, marched with friends in work boots, hard hats and high-visibility vests inscribed with: “Green jobs, our future” and “Insulate homes”.
“We have the capacity, we know everything we need to know to make this (green) shift and we’re still taking ourselves off a cliff,” she said.
A green transition toward renewable power, more efficient homes, cleaner transport and the like would create jobs and ultimately save money, said the Scottish-born protester now living in Wales.
“It will cost us more down the road we’re going,” she said. “Doing this makes sense.” —Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Alister Doyle and Megan Rowling