Environmental protests sweep Europe

More than 120 world leaders are currently attending COP26 to discuss climate action. With so many influential figures in one place, this high-profile summit has inspired climate activists to take to the streets of Glasgow, Scotland, and other cities across Europe, to voice their concerns about the need to take greater action in the fight against climate change. At this critical moment in climate governance, the global environmental movement is energized like never before. 

Ahead of the Glasgow conference, which started on Oct. 31 and lasts until Nov. 12, the United Nations hosted a youth version of COP26 called Youth4Climate in Milan, Italy. There, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg led hundreds of young people in a ‘Fridays for Future’ march, criticizing the youth conference’s organizers for not including their input in a document that will be sent to COP26 delegates in Scotland. Thunberg also called out global climate ministers for continuing to pretend to have solutions to the climate crisis and repeated empty promises. 

Youth activists in Milan hoped to see genuine climate action come from COP26 and drafted several proposals to demand a transparent climate finance system, sustainable tourism and the total phasing out of fossil fuels by 2030. In response to these demands, Mario Draghi, the current president of the G20, promised that these demands would not go unheard.

But Milan was not the only city where climate activists took to the streets. In Brussels, protestors dressed as endangered animals and waved signs demanding climate justice in the largest gathering since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 25,000 and 70,000 protestors, representing more than 80 different organizations, marched through the Belgian capital. Demonstrators expressed their concern that leaders attending COP26 would not take serious action to significantly reduce the effects of global warming.

As world leaders arrived in Glasgow for the conference in late October, they were joined by thousands of professional and amateur activists who traveled to Scotland with the aim of pressuring leaders toward bolder action. Global activists traveled great distances to attend COP26, which is seen by many as the “last best hope” for the world — a critical conference to avoid the worst of climate change. Some individuals even walked to Glasgow from Spain to be at the gathering, and a group of 20 Belgian grandparents are walking from Edinburgh to Glasgow to protest the future world their grandkids will live in should leaders fail to take decisive action.  

At the start of COP26 on Oct. 31, protestors marched through the center of the city, holding signs declaring “actions not words” and “stop fossil fuels”. Approximately 10,000 police officers are being deployed each day during the conference to facilitate peaceful protests and ensure no disruption to the conference or greater Glasgow community. This is the largest policing operation to ever be held in the city. 

The global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion led the march in Glasgow on Saturday and vowed to bring the city to a standstill, as they have done in cities across the world to protest climate inaction. With the aim to cause deliberate disruption to the city’s everyday functions and the conference, protestors from Extinction Rebellion say that they are prepared to get arrested.

Organizers are also leading 100,000 demonstrators in Glasgow on Friday, Nov. 5, where Thunberg joined a climate strike that marched from Kelvingrove Park to George Square.

“It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure,” Thunberg told a large crowd in George Square. “It should be obvious that we cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.”

Thunberg had very few kind words for the conference, instead, describing the UN climate change summit as a “two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah blah.” Thunberg said world leaders would continue to create loopholes to benefit themselves and that countries needed to commit to large CO2 emissions cuts.

COP26 provides a critical moment for climate action — for leaders and civil society, alike. 

The conference has energized global activists to take a stand and go to extreme lengths to push for real climate action. Thousands of marches have been organized across the world, but all eyes are on protests in Glasgow as the conference continues into early November to show world leaders the power of the people’s voice in this fight.

Looking ahead, activists will continue to demand accountability, transparency, and bold leadership from governments and world leaders as the climate crisis becomes all the more urgent.

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