Teens and Unions Take Over Glasgow as Greta Thunberg Declares UN Climate Talks a ‘Failure’

Teens and Unions Take Over Glasgow as Greta Thunberg Declares UN Climate Talks a ‘Failure’
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks on the stage of a demonstration in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo: Jon Super, AP)

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND — The leaves of Kelvingrove Park are a patchwork of yellow and green, caught between summer and fall, life and death. A stiff wind stirred the boughs above a throng of strikers who gathered there on Friday to send a message to negotiators in the conference rooms at United Nations climate talks 1.6 kilometres away: The time for promises is over. The era of climate action has to begin.

The scene in Kelvingrove felt a bit like a school reunion as climate strikers from around the world met up, some for the first time in two years. The pandemic forced a movement that was gaining force through mass demonstrations to scramble and organise online. But with the Glasgow talks going and vaccine access spreading — albeit still incredibly unevenly — the strikes are back. Cries of “climate justice” echoed off the city’s buildings as police cleared a path from Kelvingrove to George Square at the heart of the city’s downtown.

Indigenous Leaders Are at the Forefront

An Indigenous protester seen through a sea of police officers. (Photo: Brian Kahn) An Indigenous protester seen through a sea of police officers. (Photo: Brian Kahn)

Thousands of demonstrators were led by a delegation of Indigenous activists who have become a moral centre for the climate justice movement. The strike also brought in Scottish trade unionists who are fighting for fairer wages. Glasgow sanitation workers turned out to support the youth because the youth turned out to support them.

A New Climate Movement Is Forming

SMB unionist Chris Mitchell flashes a thumbs up. (Photo: Brian Kahn) SMB unionist Chris Mitchell flashes a thumbs up. (Photo: Brian Kahn)

“Climate justice and social justice go hand in hand,” Chris Mitchell, the branch convenor for Scotland’s GMB union refuse workers, said. “At the end of the day, we’ve had a lot of support. We’ve been on strike for five days, and a lot of the activists have come and supported us so we wanted to show our solidarity back.”

Unions and the climate movement have increasingly become aligned around the world, including in the U.S. The Texas AFL-CIO voted earlier this year to endorse a green jobs plan and just transition. The International Trade Union Confederation also endorsed a major global climate strike in 2019. But seeing the flags of GMB flying next to climate groups like Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion represents an even closer alignment that could be a potent political force.

Doctors Showed Support Kids — and Call Out Evildoers

Doctor Helena Clements holds a sign with Doctors for XR. (Photo: Brian Kahn) Doctor Helena Clements holds a sign with Doctors for XR. (Photo: Brian Kahn)

Other workers also took time off to show up and support the young adults. Helena Clements, a paediatrician, came to highlight the grave health crisis climate change poses to kids. Indeed, climate change is already making people sick and causing death now. A recent report from the Lancet, a premier medical journal, underscored just how bad things are for the present, let alone the risk future generations will face.

“This was the first year where I can say confidently that I and my patients very clearly experienced the impacts of climate change,” Jeremy Hess, co-author of the U.S. policy brief, emergency medicine physician, and director of the Centre for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington, told Earther at the time the report came out.

“There’s no point in me looking after the health of children if we don’t look after the planet,” Clements said of why she made the six-plus hour trip to Glasgow from Nottingham. “We’re here as Doctors for XR raising the role of financiers in funding climate change.”

Youth Are Tired Off Promises Alone

A protester displays the Extinction Rebellion symbol on a stop sign in George Square. (Photo: Brian Kahn) A protester displays the Extinction Rebellion symbol on a stop sign in George Square. (Photo: Brian Kahn)

At the UN climate talks, Friday was dubbed a youth day. “Wherever I have been in the world, I have been struck by the passion and the commitment of young people to climate action,” COP26 President Alok Sharma said in a statement. “The voices of young people must be heard and reflected in these negotiations here at COP.”

What those voices are calling for is more action that backs up promises. They’re also calling for a system change, one that doesn’t rely on the goodwill of capitalist overlords to address the climate crisis. On that front, COP26 has been a bit of a mixed bag so far. A contingent of countries has committed to no longer funding fossil fuels abroad, a concrete plan that brings public finance to bear on the clean energy transition. (There are still some loopholes, but it’s a good step.)

However, major private financial institutions have mostly made a splashy-sounding pledge about firms with $US130 ($176) trillion in assets going on a net zero pathway that’s been panned as greenwashing by the likes of Greta Thunberg and the Financial Times alike. U.S. leaders at the talks, including John Kerry, have also a very business-oriented approach to the crisis given Congress’ inability to pass strong climate provisions to date.

‘COP26 Is a Failure’

Protesters in the streets of Glasgow. (Photo: Brian Kahn) Protesters in the streets of Glasgow. (Photo: Brian Kahn)

“It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure,” Greta Thunberg told the group after a string of other speeches in George Square. “It should be obvious that this crisis cannot be solved with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.”

‘We Want Justice’

Kortney Brooks and Lewis Adair at George Square. (Photo: Brian Kahn) Kortney Brooks and Lewis Adair at George Square. (Photo: Brian Kahn)

Thunberg’s sentiments were echoed by Lewis Adair, a 17-year-old, who came on a class trip to the protest from an hour away, who said before Thunberg took that the stage that “some world leaders have maybe been giving empty promises” even as he remained hopeful they could deliver on them. Friday’s show of force in the streets (along with protests planned for Saturday) are meant to be a counterweight to privatizing the climate crisis.

“It’s important to have our voices heard and let everybody know that we want a change,” said Kortney Brooks, a 16-year-old who was on the same class trip. “We want justice. There’s a lot of young people here who want them to hear our voices. And hopefully, we get that change.”