COP26 protesters support a number of causes linked to climate change

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GLASGOW – Braving the biting wind and constant rain, thousands of people took to the streets of Glasgow on Saturday in loud and colorful protests, urging global leaders to act drastically enough to match the scale of a climate crisis that is already causing chaos in parts of the globe.

Waving banners, drumming and singing, a host of protesters – including members of trade unions and religious organizations, as well as leftist activists – occupied much of the Scottish city, which is home to the COP26 Climate Summit. By mid-afternoon, a long, winding line of protesters was making their way through the city, taking over an hour to get past a fixed point.

The protest illustrated how the battle to curb climate change has become an umbrella for a growing protest movement that aims to put pressure on global leaders for a wide range of causes, including racial justice and income equality. .

“We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of how the climate movement has made its way into the mainstream over the past couple of years because it’s really starting to change people’s consciousness,” said Feyzi Ismail, lecturer in global politics and activism at Goldsmiths, University of London.

“I think it’s more important than what’s going on inside the COP meeting because it’s applying the kind of pressure needed to force governments to act, but also to take far more radical positions than they might have,” he added. .

Many of the protesters have established a connection with their own lives.

“There are floods and they will continue to happen,” said Alexandra Bryden, 63, upholsterer and curtainmaker from Auchterarder, north of Edinburgh, who said her workshop had been flooded and she was worried about the future of her shop. family members living on the coast.

According to some organizers, more than 200 events have been planned around the world, of which more than half in Great Britain.

In Paris, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the city hall, where activists displayed portraits of world leaders accused of doing too little to curb global warming. The names of the leaders, including President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, were read and then booed by the crowd. “One, two and three degrees, this is a crime against humanity”, the protesters sang, before observing a minute of silence for the victims of climate change around the world.

But the focus on Saturday was in Glasgow, where authorities were closing several dozen roads to handle the arrival of what organizers say would be tens of thousands of protesters.

“People come out with this time to say we’ve had enough,” said Robert Dickie, 64, a retired accountant from Hamilton, Scotland, near Glasgow, who wears a kilt and talks after playing the bagpipes.

“Things have to change before we all die out – and that’s what will happen in the long run,” he said.

Saturday’s march was the culmination of small protests that took place throughout the week around the city, including a youth-led demonstration on Friday organized by the Fridays for Future group, an international movement born from the strike of Greta Thunberg’s solo school in 2018. On Friday she addressed the crowd and described COP26 as “a failure”.

The first week of the climate summit saw new commitments to tackle deforestation and abandon coal. At least 105 countries signed an agreement reduce emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, by 30% in this decade. Major financial institutions said they would mobilize trillions of dollars to help shift the global economy towards cleaner energy.

However, experts say that in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the rise in temperature must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, between the pre-industrial era and the end of this century. And that goal is not within reach even if all countries are meeting their current commitments.

Like many environmental groups, protesters in Glasgow were skeptical of the promises, doubting that those promises would be kept and arguing that, in any case, they had not gone far enough to solve an urgent global problem.

“There will be communities on the Scottish coast that will be cut off. It’s real,” said Ms Bryden, the upholsterer. “I can’t look my grandson in the eye. I’m sorry for what he will have to endure in the future. “

Bel Burn, 59, a retired health worker from Cumbria, northern England, said she was protesting against intensive farming and described how she had bought 20 acres of land, which she planned to plant. 4,200 trees.

“We blame China and we are blaming Brazil, but we are not doing enough and I do not see a strategy,” he said, sheltering from the rain.

“They haven’t gone far enough,” he added. “They have already agreed a lot of these things, why should we believe it will be different this time?”

Stuart Graham, a Glasgow union official and member of the COP26 coalition that organized the protests, said he hoped the march would strengthen campaigns for free public transport and an extensive program to isolate and improve the city’s housing stock. “It is vital to have a civil society with a powerful voice to hold these leaders accountable,” he said.

Organizers argue that the bewildering array of groups with diverse programs are united by a common commitment to what they call climate justice.

Katia Penha, one of the activists, who is also part of the community of Quilombola, a group of black rural residents in Brazil, said it was important to be in Glasgow this weekend to draw attention to the concerns of those in the world. of development are often overlooked by world leaders. His community has been affected by mining and he wants its challenges to be recognized alongside indigenous communities that are disproportionately affected.

“We came here to tell the world: without us – the Quilombolas in Brazil – it is not possible to have a debate on climate change,” he said, stressing how a 2015 hydroelectric dam burst in Mariana, Brazil, killed Quilombola and endless communities.

Elsewhere, vegan activists carried balloons with a cow and a chicken with the message: “Thank you for not eating us”. On a hill, a group wrote “Amazonia forever” with strips of cloth over the image of a butterfly, calling attention to the destruction of the rainforest.

So far, the violence that marked some of the protests in the early years of the summit, most notably in 1999 in Seattle, has largely been avoided.

Instead, youth groups and organizations that believe in non-violent destruction, such as Extinction Rebellion, have come to the fore.

Ms. Ismail said the question for the protest movement was whether it could extend its influence by joining trade unions and persuading workers to use the strike threat to push forward a coherent agenda. But he said he had already made great strides.

“The protest movement is the only thing that will change the situation,” Ms. Ismail said. “If there is no pressure, there will be no change.”

Aurelien Breeden reportage contributed by Paris.

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