Have the presence of protests and activists in Glasgow at COP26 had an impact?

The impact protesters have on COP26 is discussed

Kate Benson
25th November 2021
Image shows children holding signs protesting against COP26. Image Credit: "COP26 Day of Global Action" by Flickr under cc-by-2.0
A lot of people, including myself, are feeling inspired after either being part of or witnessing the marches and actions at COP26. And it WAS inspiring - over 100,000 people came together on the Global Day of Action to demand climate justice. Throughout the conference there were many amazing speeches and actions from activists across the world, including from Indigenous people and other marginalised communities. But is this going to change anything? I don’t know.

The sheer number of protesters at COP26 are a testament to how some feel that world leaders are not listening and do not care. Speeches given by protesters reiterate the same sentiments. Activist Vanessa Nakate critiqued world leaders and stated they "rarely have the courage to lead" and only do so when citizens themselves rise up. Greta Thunberg called COP26 a "failure" and the preceedings as an opportunity to "create loopholes to benefit themselves". COP26 for Thunberg, in summary, was a load of "blah blah blah".

The activists and protesters have shown the power we have as a coalition, and it is collective action that makes changes happen. However, it is difficult to say if the actions at COP26 have made a direct difference - as we have seen the leaders have continued to make empty promises and pledges that will not stop this crisis.

What it did is make the leaders aware we are watching them and make other people aware of their hypocrisy. In spite of COP26 being concerned with global emissions, the largest delegation present were representatives from or affiliated with fossil fuel industries; the presence of fossil fuel delegates caused outrage and calls for their removal from the conference. The UK government can claim some hypocrisy as well. Such hypocrisy can be seen in the fact that the UK are approving new oil and gas projects such as the Cambo Oil Field Project, despite the IEA's warnings that such projects must be stopped. It does not help there are mixed signals from MPs: Johnson has declared he is against the opening of a new coal mine in Cumbria whilst 40 MPs have signed a letter appealing for it to go ahead.

To force leaders to act, disruption is needed. Contrary to what some may believe, protestors don’t always enjoy causing disruption like this of Insulate Britain; ultimately they feel obligated to do so because the government is not taking enough action. Disruption does work; the AIDs pandemic is an example of this with their "die-ins" sparking national discourse in the US. There are people in certain countries who put their lives at risk from even being an activist, and therefore it is harder for some people than others to do this, and sometimes not a possibility.

We all need to be involved in this fight, the most obvious course of action being to join a climate action or social justice group. We are not powerless; we can all make a difference. For those in the global south and on the frontlines - this is a matter of life or death now. For those of us in the global north - we can try to ignore it and sit by as our governments allow the capitalist system to continue and cause so much harm. But why would you want to let this happen? We won't be able to ignore it anymore.

Overall, I am optimistic. I believe the activists and protests in Glasgow have had a definite impact – but it does not stop there. Now we need to continue to take action to demand climate justice, and as part of this we must demand that the voices of indigenous people and marginalised communities are listened to.

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