Climate change? There’s a ‘them and us’ gulf at COP26

A women with mask and fur hat beside a banner which reads 'Stop Fossil Fuels, COP26, ACT NOW
Ruth Miller of Alaska’s Curyung Tribe, one of the indigenous people who made it to Glasgow, to make their case in the streets. Photo credit: Anna Scott

DAY 2 in Glasgow

The streets of Glasgow looked majestic under the early morning sun. Walking towards the Conference Centre on day two of my COP26 adventure, my plan was to try my luck entering the Green Zone without a ticket. This is where the public can attend talks and speak to stall holders. The Blue Zone is home to the delegates and strictly out-of-bounds to someone like myself

Crossing the Clyde I spotted a gathering of people in brightly coloured costumes surrounded by a small crowd. They were a group of indigenous activists who had managed to navigate numerous bureaucratic and financial hurdles to get to the conference and were sharing their stories of environmental change.

Beside the River Clyde in Glasgow, featuring the famous Arc Bridge
On my way to the conference… a peaceful early morning view of the Clyde. Photo credit: Anna Scott
A line of indigenous people hold posters which read: Carbon offsetting is tearing us apart
‘Carbon offsetting is tearing us apart’ – indigenous people challenge one dubious ‘solution’ to climate change. Photo credit: Anna Scott

They told of the rivers where they had once swum as children now made inaccessible by pollution. They called for an end to carbon offsetting, explaining how it was their land that was sacrificed so that a mere few of the world’s elite could continue business as usual. Their anger was palpable but so too was their conviction that things needed to change.

Once granted entry to the Green Zone at the Science Centre, I made my way to a session run by representatives of COICA (Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon River Basin).

As they discussed the role of indigenous people in protecting the Amazon in Spanish, confusion descended – most of the audience could not understand! We had arrogantly assumed that the talk would be in English. As my neighbour remarked, this type of attitude is surely part of the problem.

The author, Anna Scott, poses beside a poster which reads Together for our Planet
Our roving correspondent Anna Scott makes it into the conference’s Green Zone, where there are talks – and corporate sponsors.

Around the Green Zone there were stalls to be explored, and poster walls and displays to view. It felt a bit like a new day at school – strangers were chatting to one another and asking the question  “what brought you here”? There was so much to see: a Clear the Air stall raising awareness of air pollution to a WWF display on the extinction of species, and much more. It was impossible to absorb it all in in a single day.

On the ground floor the stands displaying advertisements for COP26’s principal partners struck a jarring note.  Marketing slogans from the likes of Sainsbury, Sky and Microsoft claiming their commitment to “going green” rang a little hollow. It contrasted bizarrely with the mood of the young climate activists I had spoken with outside.  It was little wonder that some people in the streets and on Twitter were convinced that systemic change would not be coming from inside either the Blue or Green Zone. 

‘Just like you’ says IKEA,”we are working hard to drive ambitious climate action”. Are they? Or is it more greenwashing?

As day 2 of my roving drew towards a close I found myself sitting at an IKEA table in the Green Zone which sported a slogan urging us to “assemble a better future”.  More greenwashing? I’m unconvinced that IKEA are the most environmentally friendly furniture company around.

Reflecting on my day, it has been one of contrasts – the anger of young protesters and the poignant stories of indigenous peoples whose homes are under threat from climate change, contrasting with the slick marketing messages of large corporations. The best part of my COP26 experience so far has been meeting so many passionate, climate-conscious people, determined to make the world a better place.  And I know that there are so many more conversations to be had and a city I am yet to fully explore! Let’s see what tomorrow holds…

At the Conference

  • More than 20 countries and financial institutions committed to end all financing of fossil fuel development overseas and divert the estimated $8bn a year to green energy.  Signatories included the US, UK, and Denmark.
  • Some of the world’s biggest banks and pension funds with assets worth $130tn signed up to the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero committing them to aligning all assets that they manage with net zero emissions by 2050.  Rishi Sunak announced that London will become the world’s “first net-zero finance centre”

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