Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26

As the world leaders leave Glasgow having made the headline pledges regarding methane, forests and coal, the spotlight turns to the activists. Among them yesterday, speaking to French news agency AFP, was a young Polish participant, Dominika Lasota. She labelled the Polish coal phase-out announced on Wednesday as “a complete joke’’. She said that unlike other developed nations, Poland doesn’t intend to scrap coal burning by the end of this decade, but would continue doing so until 2049 – the internal target it set itself earlier this year. Summing up, she said: “governments are literally absolutely paying no attention”, and “governments will continue destroying ecosystems and communities”.

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment

The emotional approach of such strong rhetoric is understandable – but does it work, or does it put ordinary people – citizens, workers, consumers – off the topic?

Young people are right to be alarmed by manmade climate change – the prospect of living on this planet towards the end of the 21st century is extremely concerning. Extreme weather events will have become normal, the Arctic icecap will have all but disappeared; heatwaves, floods and droughts will plague mankind, massive population shifts will be underway.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg made her first media appearances at COP26, accusing the UN climate-change conference as being nothing more than "greenwashing" and "business as usual". She announced a return of the school-strike movement, Fridays for Future.

The question of rhetoric and language is crucial; on the one hand without strong soundbites, Mr and Mrs Average Global Citizen will merely shrug their shoulders and carry on as they always have done. On the other, the danger of using absolute terms and offhandedly dismissing steps taken by governments at successive COPs raises the prospects of an anti-green backlash.

The righteous anger of the climate activists at COP26 has so far been aimed at governments and corporations. Direct action by groups such as Extinction Rebellion or Insulate Britain, aimed at inconveniencing ordinary people as they go about their daily routines, are unpopular with the majority of citizens.

Hardly any of the rhetoric from protest groups is aimed at convincing people to alter their lifestyles – to cut back on air travel, driving (especially in cities), reduce red-meat intake, save energy and water and consume less. And yet, two billion people in the rich world all taking conscious steps to change the way they live can make a massive difference – as big as governments passing laws or corporates setting green targets for themselves. Looking at Greta Thunberg’s generation, there is hope that they will consume far less than their parents over the course of their lifetimes.

As consumers, we live in danger of ‘stuffocation’ – the average American household contains around 200,000 items, if we count clothes, kitchenware, furniture, consumer durables, tools etc. Can we live with less, dragging fewer new things out of the world’s factories? There is hope. Take your mobile phone – it’s a phone, a communicator, a camera (movies and stills), a radio, a (very small) TV,  a calculator, a torch, a pedometer, a calendar/diary – things we no longer need to have built for us.

COP26 measures would limit global temperature rise “to 1.8C degrees” – IEA

On the basis of pledges made at COP26 so far, the International Energy Agency has calculated that the predicted rise in global temperature would top out at 1.8C degrees – 0.3C higher than the internationally agreed target of 1.5C. However, that would depend on all the governments and organisations that have committed to the pledges actually sticking to them and delivering on what has been promised. This is far from certain. Still, 1.8C is markedly lower than the 3C rise that could trigger catastrophic runaway global warming, which many pessimists claim remains likely because of slipped deadlines, broken promises and double-counting of emission cuts.

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment