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‘The time for change is now’: demonstrators around the world demand action on climate crisis | Cop26
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‘The time for change is now’: demonstrators around the world demand action on climate crisis | Cop26


People living on almost every continentThere were marches and rallies held on Saturday to mark the Global Day for Climate Justice, which was halfway through the Glasgow climate summit.

Activists in PhilippinesEight hours earlier than the UK, the protesters in Scotland had finished their rally. There were also rallies held in France, South Korea, Indonesia and the Netherlands. One street in Brussels was occupied by the Belgian Extinction Rebellion.

Although the Scottish morning was drenched with rain, the mood was positive and uplifting. “What do you expect protesting in Glasgow?” asked Lucy Bell, who works for the Vegan Kind, an online vegan supermarket based in Rutherglen. “There are so many people here from different backgrounds. It’s easy to get discouraged by the negotiations going on behind closed doors but I’m feeling optimistic this morning despite the rain.”

Direct action group Scientist Rebellion block the King George V bridge.
Scientist Rebellion blocks the King George V Bridge with direct action.Photograph by Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Scientist Rebellion, a direct-action group, blocked the King George V bridge in Glasgow, which is one of the main routes from the south side at 11.30am. All 20 scientists, from students to retired professors, were chained by the neck, wearing lab coats. The coalition of activists academics believes that non-violent civil defiance is the only option to draw attention the extreme nature of the climate crisis.

“There have been 25 previous Cops with no measurable impact on GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions,” said Tim Hewlett, co-founder and one of those on the bridge. “In fact, about half of the GHG emissions have been released since COP1 in 1995. So we’re not here to speak truth to power – they already know – but to the powerless, and to raise their voices in turn.” Hewlett added that the lab coats they were wearing were at least offering some protection from the rain. The bridge was shut down just before 4pm. 21 people were taken into custody, according to the group.

The march began at midday and was led by a small group from Kahnawake Mohawk territory in Quebec, Canada.

“It’s so evident that indigenous people hold the answers – they have to start listening and start thinking seven generations ahead, not just the immediate need,” said Karahkwintha, 23.

Ohontsakahte, 26, added: “Inside the Cop venue, unfortunately, it’s corporate interests at the front of the line, so here today indigenous people are leading the movement – and that’s how it should be inside the Cop venue too. We’re here to put indigenous voices at the forefront of the climate crisis.”

The huge crowds also included Cop delegate. Tracy Sonny (37), a Cop negotiator in Botswana who focuses on climate adaptation and capacity building was present at the march to demonstrate solidarity and call for greater unity. “We need to see more political will and a change in mindset … we’re already feeling the impact of climate change; we need to respond now, people are drowning.”

Despite the dreich weather, the atmosphere was electric as each bloc made itself heard with live music and chants such as “system change not climate change” and “world leaders at Cop26 … your inaction makes us sick.”

Members of the climate action group Extinction Rebellion during a protest at Rue de la Loi in Brussels.
Extinction rebellion members during a demonstration at Rue de la Loi (Brussel) Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

Grainne McGinn, 22, a wheelchair user from Glasgow, attended Friday’s youth protest and Saturday’s with a sign that read “sustainability requires accessibility”. “Climate change is so important but youth voices, especially disabled youth voices, are not being heard. We’ve seen in the news how inaccessible Cop has been for delegates. That’s the day-to-day experience for all disabled people and it’s so important that our voices are heard in the conversation on climate change. I’m here to represent.”

Four giant inflatable animals were used by vegan activists to demonstrate their point. They were either tied to the ground or tethered to their heads with ropes. Each animal represented a different problem in the livestock industry: a cow to release methane, a chicken to provide Covid and health, a fish to reduce microplastics, and an obese pig to symbolize obesity. “The cow in the room is being ignored at this Cop,” said Carl Le Blanc of Climate Healers. “Animal agriculture has been taken off the agenda and put on the menu.”

Carl Le Blance and an inflatable cow
‘The cow in the room is being ignored at this Cop,’ said Carl Le Blanc of Climate Healers, heading off to join the Glasgow march during Cop26.Jon Watts Photograph

Roisin Greaney is a 28-year-old postgrad student from Dublin. I’m here today because, I would say a small group of people but in this case it’s a very large group of people, wants to put a sustained pressure on the people inside the blue zone.

“I’ve seen it in the past, I’ve seen small groups of people come together and scare governments, scare companies, and make them do things. So I think this kind of direct action works, and it’s amazing to see people from so many different organisations and parts of society.”

There was also despair; Chris Cornroy, 37, who works for Oxfam, said: “The world is probably going to end within our lifetime, so any difference you can make counts. But I don’t think anything will be achieved from this if I’m being honest. I don’t think anything will make a positive difference today.”

By the afternoon, the rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to shine. Thousands of marchers began to fill the streets of Glasgow Green, singing, chanting, and playing music.

The mood was “celebratory, positive and punchy” said Mary Martin from Coatbridge, who had marched from Kelvingrove. “Walking the walk,” she laughed as she shivered against a strong gust of wind. As for the progress of the climate talks, “I’m holding my breath.” The lack of inclusivity at the negotiations concerns her, the opposite of her experience on this march where she notes the rapport between different groups.

London saw thousands of protesters march from Trafalgar Square to the Bank of England.

Protesters gather in Trafalgar Square having marched from the City of London.
After marching from the City of London, protesters gather in Trafalgar Square. Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators expressed frustration that politicians failed to address the climate emergency as quickly as they should. “We don’t have time,” said Paula Somrisa, 41, from Oxford. “It’s great to make statements about ambitions and what is going to happen in the future but we really need action now.”

Dawn Fuller, 56, said: “We have had enough of hearing them talk – now we absolutely have to see some real action.” She said her two grown-up children were increasingly anxious about the escalating climate emergency. “We have seen so much greenwashing at Cop26 … But it has to stop – it is our children’s future at stake.”

Many protestors demanded urgent reform of the economy and linked the climate crisis with global inequality and structural racism.

Rebecca Hotchkin, 23, a London-based medical student, stated that the climate crisis is causing global health inequalities. “Health justice and climate justice are linked. Governments must start addressing the underlying causes to the various crises we face.”

Organisers in Glasgow estimated that more than 100,000 people attended the event, but police refused to give a figure. They claimed that about 10,000 people marched in London, but organizers put the number closer to 20,000. More than 300 protests were held worldwide, with over 100 in the UK.

Nicola Sturgeon told reporters on Friday that she had confidence that the Glasgow climate march would be policed “appropriately”, adding that Iain Livingstone, Police Scotland’s chief constable, had spoken to the force’s independent advisory group after the concerns were raised in an open letter.

Gary Ritchie, assistant chief constable, appealed to marchers for responsibility and warned those who were travelling to GlasgowBe prepared for delays

He added: “There will be an increased police presence in Glasgow, and roads, public transport and the streets will be significantly busier than would normally be expected in the city on a Saturday.

“If you’re going to a march, please act responsibly, be respectful in your actions and follow the route and instructions given to you by event organisers or police officers.”

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