DAY 4: on the march at COP26
The morning was crisp but there was certainly no stillness in the air. I could sense the excitement as soon as I left my Glasgow youth hostel. As I turned towards Kelvingrove Park, the start point of the Youth March for Climate Justice, I saw police officers on horseback patrolling the streets, young activists flocking there like moths to a light. A girl behind me could be heard saying, “It feels like we are in exactly the right place.” I was inclined to agree.
Thousands of people were gathering. Music, chatter and climate facts could be heard wherever I turned. The first person I spoke to was a medical student called Marina (@marinadpol – Twitter). Wearing some incredible climate crocs, she told me what had brought her to the march. “As a medical student, I see that the climate crisis is also a health crisis. I feel an obligation to speak out and do something because this is something that will affect everybody.”
Amid chants of, “system change, not climate change,” I spotted a group of people sporting shiny, silver capes. I went to investigate. “We’re a group called Rebel Elders,” one lady explained. “We’re wearing these silver capes because that represents older, silver-haired people and we are here because we want to support young people. We want to help to make the changes that we seriously need to make.” (@rebeleldersbristol – Twitter).
One activist worked for Gone West Tree Planting, a company creating tree planting jobs to tackle climate change (@gonewesttreeplanting – Instagram). He offered his take on the climate crisis simply asking, “has the world gone mad, or is it me?”.
Soon we were off. As a police helicopter flew overhead activists to yelled, “turn your engine off.” I don’t think the pilot heard.
I began chatting with some activists from the group Green New Deal Rising (@GNDRising – Twitter). They were holding a welcome event that evening to bring new people into their movement.
People cheered from their windows. Others brought their dogs along. Perhaps most poignant were the signs of small children who accompanied their parents (Picture 5) with one reading, “no more plastic toys.”
After several hours of marching, we arrived in George’s Square. Crowding together, we stood to hear the speeches of leading activists from around the world. Evelyn Acham (@eve_chantel – twitter), who travelled from Uganda to attend COP26, spoke powerfully on the inequality of CO2 emissions. “As a continent, Africa is not responsible for the majority of CO2 emissions but we will suffer some of the worst impacts,” she said.
Activist Mikaela Loach also took to the stage (@mikaelaloach – Twitter). As part of the Paid to Pollute campaign, she is currently taking the UK government to court for giving £3.2bn of public money to North Sea oil and gas companies. “Change is not passive and hope comes from action,” Mikaela declared.
Next, Nina from Youth for Climate, said extreme weather events were political choices:
“Every fire is political. Every drought is political and the revolution will always be in the streets,” she announced.
A strong group of indigenous leaders, who led the day’s march, also took to the stage. They stood united, declaring that over 80% of the world’s biodiversity is protected by indigenous people.
Soon it was Vanessa Nakate’s (@vanessa_vash – Twitter) turn to speak. She is an activist and author from Kampala, Uganda. Earlier in the week, there had been outrage when she was cropped from a picture of herself and Greta Thunberg meeting Nicola Sturgeon. Vanessa took the mic to say, “We are faced with another COP event. How many more of these will they hold before they realise that their inactions are destroying the planet?”
The final speaker was Greta Thunberg. As she took to the stage, a sea of mobile phones shot into the air. Everybody wanted to capture Greta’s words for themselves. She heralded COP26 as a failure and immediately made headlines around the world.
“This is an active choice by the leaders to continue to let the exploitation of people and nature and the destruction of present and future living conditions to take place,” Greta said.
She left to rapturous applause as she raised her fist into the air.
My overwhelming feeling as I left the Youth March was one of hope. I had met and listened to such a variety of people and yet they were all there for the same reason. They all wanted to protect humankind. They all recognised how urgently we must act.