Tens of thousands of climate activists marched Saturday through the Scottish city hosting the U.N. climate summit, physically close to the global negotiators inside but separated by a vast gulf in expectations, with frustrated marchers increasingly dismissive of the climate talks and demanding immediate action instead to slow global warming.
The mood at the protest in Glasgow was upbeat despite the complaints and bursts of rain. Climate protests were also held across Europe, including in London, Paris, Dublin, Copenhagen, Zurich and Istanbul.
Protesters condemned government leaders around the world, saying the climate talks so far have failed to produce the fast action needed. Activist Greta Thunberg on Friday condemned the talks as just more “blah, blah, blah.”
“We’re having these conversations, but there’s no policies to actually back them,” said Daze Aghaji, a marcher from London at the Glasgow demonstration, shouting over the steady beat of the drums.
“And on top of that, the real people should be in the room,” Aghaji said, echoing complaints that the Glasgow summit has too sharply limited participation by the public. “How are we expecting to make decent policy when the people who are the stakeholders of this aren’t even present in the room?”
Marchers held signs with messages including “Code Red for Humanity,” “Stop big polluters,” “COP26, we are watching you” or simply “I’m angry.” One sign asked “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”
Megan McClellan, 24, of Glasgow said she doubted that climate negotiators were listening.
“This is a very easy thing for them to ignore. They’re nice and comfortable” inside the summit conference center, she said, which is ringed by steel fences.
But her friend Lucette Wood, 30, of Edinburgh disagreed.
“They might not actually do anything about it but they pretend that they do … and they will just put it off for 20-30 years,” Wood said.
Whether a tactic to increase pressure on governments or a rejection of the negotiations, Thunberg’s dismissive talk of the two-week summit — which has another week to go — has resonated inside and outside the summit site. Government leaders and negotiators say they are equally aware as marchers of the urgency of their task, with time slipping away to rein in pollution from fossil fuels before the Earth faces much higher levels of warming.
Marcher Jason Cook, 54, came to Glasgow with two friends and all three wore helmets bearing the word “blah.”
Cook, like other marchers, echoed Thunberg’s words: “We don’t want to hear any more blah, blah, blah,” he said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been one of many global leaders acknowledging Thunberg’s phrase as they defend progress made by governments in raising promises of emissions cuts and climate financing.
Elizabeth May, a Canadian member of parliament and 16-time participant in the U.N. climate talks, joined the Glasgow demonstrators Saturday.
“Overwhelmingly, the protests make a difference,” May said. “Most of the people on the inside are here in their hearts and sometimes physically.”
Inside the huge U.N. conference venue, negotiators knuckled down for a seventh straight day of talks amongst almost 200 nations to finish draft agreements that can be passed to government ministers for political approval next week. Among the issues being haggled over are a fresh commitment to capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), getting countries to review their efforts more frequently to increase the pressure for deeper cuts, and providing more financial support for poor nations to adapt to climate change.
The summit’s president, Alok Sharma, told reporters he understood protesters’ frustration.
“I think we have overall made progress,” Sharma said Saturday. “I think people have been constructive in the negotiating rooms.”
“We are getting to the point where the rubber hits the road, where we’re going to have to make, you know, tough decisions” by government officials, he said. “I don’t, certainly do not, underestimate the difficulty of the task which is ahead of us.”