The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 is well underway in Glasgow and with Fridays for Future and Global Day of Action protests this weekend, activists have been thronging the streets of the Scottish city. 

Some of the biggest names in youth activism have also been making themselves heard at the summit, addressing crowds and world leaders alike. 

These include Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate, and Malala Yousafzai, who spoke at panel discussions at the New York Times Climate Hub about the role that young women play in vocal activism, how climate change and education are connected, ensuring better representation for activists, and how COP26 is turning into a “greenwash campaign.”

“Since we are so far from what actually we needed, I think what would be considered a success would be if people realize what a failure this COP is,” 18-year-old Thunberg said at a panel event chaired by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson.

As a reminder, here are the key points of action we need to see coming out of COP26, as it continues into next week, for the global conference to not be a failure. 

So far, we’ve seen major pledges to end deforestation by 2030, pledges to cut one-third of countries’ methane emissions by 2030, and billions of dollars of commitments to be invested in green infrastructure. 

But campaigners and activists on the streets and at panels worry that these promises will not be enough to stop the temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius, a limit set by the Paris agreement, or that they may not even be delivered after talks come to an end next week unless commitments and pledges turn into real action. 

Vanessa Nakate, the 24-year-old climate activist from Uganda, used current climate change conditions to argue that pledges to keep the earth within the limit of 1.5C is not an adequate solution for regions, such as her own, facing the immediate effects of climate change.

“Even right now, it’s already evident that the climate crisis is ravaging different parts of the African continent,” said Nakate, founder of the Rise Up climate movement.

Education activist Yousafzai, also 24, joined the panel virtually and spoke about how climate change and education are interconnected. 

“When we talk about the 130 million girls that are out of school, these girls are out school because of different reasons, and some of the reasons include climate disasters including displacement because of climate catastrophes like drought, like floods; many of their schools are washed out because of those climate events.” said Yousafzai. 

Yousafzai cited research conducted by the Malala Fund which showed that up to 4 million girls are at risk of losing their education because of climate change in 2021. She added that number could increase to 12.4 million in five years. 

“Climate, gender equality, and girls’ education are not separate issues,” said the Pakistani activist, stressing the importance of addressing climate change to ensure safe access to education. 

As Yousafzai highlighted at the panel: “It is the young people, especially young women who are the voices of the climate movement, and that gives hope to so many people.”

Climate activists and environmental movements have held demonstrations in Glasgow since the beginning of the talks, pressuring leaders to make bold commitments to save the planet and protect vulnerable nations on the front lines of the climate crisis. 

Thunberg further tweeted from the conference on Thursday and made references to recent critiques calling COP26 underrepresented and exclusionary. 

“This is no longer a climate conference. This is a Global North greenwash festival,” wrote Thunberg in the tweet.

Nakate and Thunberg also delivered speeches on the ground, joining climate activists including Indigenous and youth-led marches on Friday. 

“Historically, Africa is responsible for only 3% of global emissions, but Africans are suffering some of the most brutal impacts fueled by the climate crisis,” said Nakate as she addressed protestors in Glasgow.


Defend the Planet

Malala Yousafzai, Vanessa Nakate & Greta Thunberg Speak Out at COP26

By Kate Nakamura