After a long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) has finally kicked off. And amidst all the greenwashing and far-off targets coming from world leaders, corporations, and industries, many youth climate activists are speaking at COP26 to put the people in power on the spot.
Here’s a look at a few of the amazing activists who have made their voice heard in Glasgow so far. We will keep updating this article throughout COP26 as other notable climate activists make speeches, both at the conference and at coinciding events, such as the COP26 Climate Strike, where Greta Thunberg will be marching.
U.K.-based climate justice activist and medic Mikaela Loach, who uses both she and they pronouns, represented climate activists in an appearance on the BBC Two program Newsnight this week, in which they spoke with a spokesperson for Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
When asked if she was impressed by what she’s heard so far, she was quick to respond by saying “absolutely not.” Loach went on to criticize political and corporate leaders for greenwashing, and pointed out that despite Johnson’s words, he is still pursuing new oil and gas licenses. They were also asked about how companies like Nestle can do better for the environment, and they responded by stating that these companies need to treat workers better and stop using modern slavery.
“We can’t have climate justice without the justice part. We can’t have that without looking after people,” Loach declared.
On Nov. 1, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate was one of several activists to speak at a presentation hosted by Global Assembly as part of COP26.
In her speech, Nakate shared the story of how her father’s generation had witnessed a significant decrease in rainfall in Uganda. The reduced rainfall has meant crops have suffered, countless farmers have lost their farms and their income, food has become scarce, and food prices have gone up.
This was just one facet of the climate crisis that inspired Nakate to become a climate justice activist. “The climate and ecological crisis is not just about weather patterns,” she told the crowd. ‘It’s about the people. It’s about real people.”
Nakate went viral in January 2020, when the Associated Press cropped Nakate out of a photo of young activists (including Greta Thunberg) taken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, leading many readers to accuse the photo editor of racism. Unfortunately, the same behavior is still happening. A few Twitter users recently shared a photo of Nakate, Thunberg, and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meeting at COP26, alongside a cropped version without Nakate that had reportedly been circulating in the media.
“There were more people in that meeting,” Thunberg tweeted in response to a tweet that has since been deleted. “Media needs to stop erasing the voices of activists, especially the most affected people from the most affected areas.”
Elizabeth Wathuti is a Kenya-based climate activist, and the founder of the Green Generation Initiative. She made an incredible speech at the World Leaders Summit Opening Ceremony, in which she spoke to world leaders on behalf of Earth, asking them to open their hearts to the pleas of those who care passionately about our planet.
“I can [ask] you to act at the pace and skill necessary, but in the end, your will to act must come from deep within,” she declared. She then went into a speech about some of the climate atrocities impacting her home country of Kenya, such as climate-related starvation, which affects 2 million Kenyans, a drought, and dried-up rivers. She also mentioned deadly heat waves, wildfires, and floods in neighboring African countries, adding that “there is more still to come.”
Wathuti also asked the delegates watching her speech to join her in a moment of silence for the victims of the climate crisis. She stated that the lives depend on the decisions made at COP26, and asked that people take action. Wathuti did a fantastic job of sharing her story and appealing to emotions — a tactic that Jane Goodall believes is key in this fight.
On Friday, Nov. 5, famous climate activist Greta Thunberg made her only speech of COP26 — and it wasn’t even at the conference. It was at the Fridays for Future climate strike, held in Glasgow, and aimed at the leaders attending COP26. In her speech, Thunberg dubbed COP26 a “failure,” and called it a “Global North greenwash festival, a two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah,” according to footage shared by Democracy Now!
“Many are starting to ask themselves, ‘What will it take for the people in power to wake up?’” Thunberg told the crowd of strikers. “But let’s be clear: They are already awake. They know exactly what they are doing.”
She added: “The COP has turned into a PR event where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains the governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action.”
If anyone can rally a crowd of climate activists, Thunberg can — but when will leaders finally listen to her?
This article has been updated to include Greta Thunberg's speech.