The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow has been billed as our last best chance to get the world on track to keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

In other words, it's a vital global milestone in the mission to stop catastrophic climate change. 

Yet activists have decried the event’s profound lack of transparency, inclusion, and ambition, with many highlighting glaring conflicts of interest that are on display. For example, more than 500 fossil fuel lobbyists are at COP26 — a larger delegation than that of any single country in attendance, according to the BBC.  

"When I arrived at COP26, I could only see white middle-aged men in suits," Magali Cho Lin Wing, 17, a member of the UNICEF UK Youth Advisory Board, said at an event. "And I thought, 'Hold on, is this a climate conference or some corporate event? Is this what you came for? To swap business cards?'"

Despite a number of global pledges and announcements coming out of COP26 so far, governments and institutions are largely failing to take the significant and ambitious action required to tackle the climate crisis, with hopes for saving the environment lying primarily at the grassroots level. 

Alongside COP26, activists and community organizers have sought to elevate the issues being ignored at the summit, while directing global attention to the actions that need to be taken to curb emissions, restore ecosystems, and build a viable, equitable future.

Here are nine powerful moments of activism at COP26 so far. 

1. Greta Thunberg Calls COP26 a ‘Global North Greenwash Festival’ in Blistering Speech 

With her relentless determination, acerbic wit, profound compassion, and scientific acumen, Greta Thunberg has captivated a global audience that hangs on her every word. At a protest surrounding COP26, she ripped into the proceedings at the summit, calling it a “a two-week long celebration of business as usual and blah blah blah.”

She also eloquently spoke about the heart of the matter. 

“The ecological crisis does not exist in a vacuum,” she said.”It is connected to other crises and injustices that date back to colonialism and beyond, crises based on the idea that some people are worth more than others and therefore have the right to steal others, to exploit others, and steal their land and resources. It is very naive of us to think we could address this crisis without addressing the root cause of it.” 

“The question we must ask ourselves is: what are we fighting for?” she continued. “Are we fighting to save ourselves and the living planet? Or are we fighting to maintain business as usual? Our leaders say that we can have both. But the harsh truth is that that is not possible in practice."

“Fighting to save our life-supporting systems isn’t radical at all," she said. "Believing that our civilization as we know it can survive a 2.7 degree or 3 degree hotter world is not only extremely radical, it's pure madness.” 

2. Vanessa Nakate Challenges World Leaders to Deliver on Financial Commitments

As former US President Barack Obama delivered a speech at the summit on Monday, climate activist Vanessa Nakate called on him and other world leaders to finally “show me the money” and deliver on their promises to provide adequate climate finance for vulnerable countries and communities. 

Back in 2009, wealthy nations pledged to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 to support those on the front lines, those that are most at-risk to climate change's impacts. It was announced shortly before COP26 that the target hasn't yet been met and likely won't be met until 2023. 

3. Tuvalu Minister Gives COP26 Speech Knee-Deep in the Sea

For the people living in Tuvalu, the threat of climate change is not an abstraction. The pacific island could literally be submerged under rising sea levels in the near future. Simon Kofe, Tuvalu’s foreign minister, wanted to really drive the urgency of this message home at COP26, so he gave a speech with his lectern in the ocean at the far end of Fongafale, the main islet of the capital Funafuti in Tuvalu. Standing knee-deep in water, he called for the climate crisis to be taken seriously. 

"The statement juxtaposes the COP26 setting with the real-life situations faced in Tuvalu due to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise, and highlights the bold action Tuvalu is taking to address the very pressing issues of human mobility under climate change," Kofe told CNN.

4. An Activist Drinks ‘Oil’ 

The current global reliance on fossil fuels makes it seem like it’s a necessity — like water. Except it isn’t. Every time oil is burned for energy is a choice, and our collective failure to move beyond fossil fuels as a source of energy is also a choice made by powerful interests who have made trillions off of the exploration of oil, natural gas, and coal. 

An activist in Glasgow staged a visceral, stomach-churning performance to illustrate humanity’s reliance on oil — by having someone pour an oil-like substance out of a canister onto their face. As they struggle to swallow the substance, gurgling and coughing it out, it pours down their face and chest and coats their clothing. The message is unmistakable: if we continue to treat oil as essential as water, it will kill us.

5. Fridays for Future March 

The Fridays for Future march began as a solitary protest in Sweden in 2018 by Greta Thunberg and grew into the largest youth protest movement in the world. Now, thousands of protesters gather every week to demand action to end the climate crisis. At COP26, Thunberg led a coalition of 25,000 people who marched, chanted, sang, and demanded that the leaders deliberating at the summit actually live up to their lofty words. 

6. Powerful Poems by Youth Leaders

The youth activists Ayisha Siddiqa and Mikaela Loach have dedicated their lives to building the sort of power that can transform the world and transition societies beyond fossil fuels. At the Friday for Future march last week, they delivered powerful poems about the struggle for climate justice and the pursuit of hope. 

7. Squid Games — The Climate Version

In recent months, the Netflix series Squid Games has become a global sensation. The show is a fierce critique of our current stage of late capitalism that prevents huge swaths of the global population from having basic human rights such as food, water, shelter, and freedom from violence, all while commodifying an ever-growing percentage of human existence. 

At COP26, protesters directed the show’s ire at world leaders gathered at the summit, suggesting that like the wealthy patrons of the fictional Squid Games, the wealthy attendees are actively underwriting our collective demise by maintaining “business as usual.”

8. Little Amal Puppet 

An 11 foot tall puppet named Little Amal made a pitstop at COP26 on Tuesday to highlight the plight faced by girls and women in the escalating climate crisis. Little Amal has traveled across Europe to raise awareness of the issues facing refugee children and her presence at the global climate summit was a stark reminder of how the most vulnerable communities often face the harshest environmental impacts. 

9. Activists Call Out Corporate Greenwashing 

In recent years, there's been a push to include more voices of women in climate negotations and to deliver more climate financing to women's groups around the world. Efforts to create gender parity in the climate space have sometimes been co-opted by powerful interests and activists interrupted an event enabling corporate greenwashing at COP26 in the video above.

"The feminism being discussed here is a facade," one activist said. "Feminism is not climbing the corporate ladder in search of money. Feminism is not women at the top milking the same system that created the patriarchy. Feminism is not what these people here today are telling you about. You are not an inspiration."  

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Squid Games, Poetry, and Drinking Oil: 9 Powerful Moments of Activism at COP26

By Joe McCarthy