GLASGOW, Scotland – Braving heavy rain, tens of thousands of protesters including indigenous people, workers, environmentalists and social activists took to Glasgow’s streets on Saturday, decrying glacial progress on climate change threats inside the formal COP26 U.N. summit.
At the city’s Kelvingrove Park, the day of protests started with a rally organized by the Fire Brigades Union demanding green jobs and racial justice.
Vulnerable people in countries that have contributed least to climate change bear the brunt of extreme weather and rising seas on a warming planet, speakers said.
Throngs of protesters, including Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, then wound their way through the city center to a second rally at Glasgow Green, where indigenous community members called for rainforest protection and food producers urged ecologically friendly forms of farming.
Asad Rehman, co-director of the COP26 Coalition, which brings together British groups campaigning on climate change, said the Glasgow march was just one of more than 300 climate demonstrations around the world Saturday as the U.N. climate talks hit their midpoint.
The coalition estimated about 120,000 people took to the streets of Glasgow, amid rain that at times blew in sideways.
Rehman, also director of charity War on Want, pointed to the diversity of protesters, with indigenous peoples, African climate activists and others from developing nations leading the Glasgow march after braving pandemic restrictions to travel to COP26.
“We have built a movement that is not just of environmentalists but that involves and connects with labor movements, faith organizations (and) grassroots activists,” he said.
That shows how “the (climate) crisis we face is a multiple crisis … a symptom of a rigged economy and a broken system,” he said.
Rally speakers decried the legacy of colonialism by industrialized northern countries, and said climate change — now fueling disasters, natural destruction and migration worldwide — could not be tackled only by those in positions of privilege.
Yvonne Blake, co-founder of Scottish community group Migrants Organising For Rights and Empowerment, said citizens from the Global South should have the opportunity to speak for themselves and not tolerate others doing it for them.
“If these people are speaking about us and we are not represented, they do not speak for us,” she told a soaking-wet crowd as she stood atop a fire engine hung with a banner reading, “Firefighters know an emergency when they see one.”
“We cannot expect the people in COP to bring the changes, because they are the ones who created the problem. The climate crisis is a racist crisis and their ‘solutions’ are racist solutions,” said Blake, whose parents emigrated from Jamaica to Britain.
Marchers said they felt the politicians, business people and international green groups inside the COP26 summit were failing to act fast enough to curb global warming and did not work for ordinary peoples’ interests.
Nicolas Haeringer, associate director for partnerships with the global climate campaign 350.org, said those inside the talks should listen to those trying to lead change on the outside and make more space for them.
“The outside should become the inside … (to) catch up with the two decades we have lost to fossil fuel lobbies, captured interests and climate denial,” he said
Wil Nixon, 26, from the English region of Cornwall, helped carry a paper-and-bamboo sculpture depicting “life over profit” that featured bright fish, birds and butterflies as well as dead, black ones.
He said it was now up to individuals to drive forward the action needed on climate change.
“Our government — they are not making the change, they’re not leading, so it’s up to the people to lead the change and put the pressure on,” he said.
“Leaders will emerge from these kinds of people here,” he said, pointing to the protesters in Kelvingrove Park.
Rehman said groups advocating for climate justice — which involves making big emitters of greenhouse gases do more to reduce that pollution while paying reparations to those suffering the worst effects — used to be sidelined and ignored, but had now grown to be millions strong.
“That is the big change that is happening,” he said.
Saturday’s protests appeared to bear that out, with many demonstrators calling for an end to capitalism and for a greener, fairer world based on social equality and not driven primarily by commercial profits.
They also urged solidarity among different groups pushing for an alternative vision for the world.
“Globalize the struggle — globalize hope!” those at the final rally chanted.
Others at the protests talked about the importance of individuals changing how they conduct their own lives, whether by eating only plant-based foods or divesting their money from companies that harm the planet.
Sandy Winterbottom, 55, a former environmental scientist and lecturer at the University of Stirling, said she had formed a group with fellow “menopausal” women to try to speed efforts to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — a goal still far out of reach.
They set up a website called Raging for Change as a one-stop-shop to help members of the public discover where to invest their savings and how to consume responsibly, such as by ditching plastic and fast fashion.
“Where we spend our money matters. If we take our money away from the people in charge of climate change, then they will have to change,” she said.
She castigated governments for not making commitments substantial enough to limit planetary heating to safe levels.
“And the promises they are making, they are not even keeping to, so we need real action — we need real political change,” she added.
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