Youth Lead Global Protests Against Slow Climate Action At COP26

November 6th was a day of protest across the globe, as frustrated citizens took to the streets to protest against slow climate action at COP26. There were more than 300 rallies worldwide. According to The New York Times, tens of thousands showed up in Glasgow alone. The protestors called on global leaders to take drastic action on climate change. Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg spoke at the Glasgow protests, calling COP26 a “failure” and dubbing it a “Global North greenwash festival,” according to CNN. Members of the Indigenous Climate Action group were also part of the protest, calling for an end to extractive industries.

The protests posed a stark contrast to the beginning of the week, where more than 130 presidents and prime ministers posed for a group photo. The median age of the group was over 60. In contrast, the Glasgow protests were dominated by younger generations. This highlights the growing divide between those with the power to make crucial decisions on climate change to the youth whose lives are going to be drastically impacted if those leaders are not able to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees celsius. While it is not uncommon for social movements to be led by youth, the generational divide in these protests is even more pointed. As Somini Sengupta of The New York Times said, “world leaders have been talking about the need to address climate change since before most of the protesters were born.”

According to the International Energy Agency, the new pledges made this week are enough to keep warming to 1.8 degrees celsius. This is down from the 2.5 to 2.7 degrees celsius the world was facing before COP26 negotiations began. One of the most significant pledges to come out of COP26 so far has been the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030, compared to 2020 levels. The push was led by the United States and the European Union and has been signed by over 100 countries. However, according to The Energy Mix, despite being lauded as a major success, the pledge has attracted criticism from environmental groups for its lack of enforcement mechanisms. Greenpeace also criticized the pledge, saying “by not including meat reduction or pledges to change people’s diets in this commitment, governments are giving a free pass to big agriculture.”

To keep warming under 1.5 degrees celsius the United Nations needed new pledges totaling 22 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions cuts by 2030, according to Newsroom. So far pledges by the world leaders have been delivered on 9 gigatonnes. This leaves a further 13 gigatonnes to be pledged, hopefully in the coming week. The question that remains to be seen is whether these global protests help push our leaders to commit to the extra 13 gigatonnes, or whether another COP passes us by. Not a complete failure, but also not the success we so desperately need. One thing is for certain, our youth will be watching the next week closely.