All eyes have been trained on Glasgow since COP26 kicked off at the start of the week, where world leaders continue to hum and haw over the terms of a global climate deal.
For many, though, hope for the future of the planet lies with the energy and diversity of today’s COP26 Youth Strike, rather than the official negotiations.
Thousands of school strikers assembled at the city’s Kelvingrove Park and snaked their way through the streets to a rally at George Square at the event organised by youth climate network Fridays for Future (FFF).
FFF’s founder, Greta Thunberg was among speakers and was also in the crowd, surrounded by young marchers.
The lively march was due to set off at 11am but was delayed by a wall of media blocking the way. Young people from all over the world, young children with their parents and other adults – who told The Ferret they were there to show “solidarity”, chanted – sang and danced as they walked.
They held up banners and cardboard signs, many inspired by Thunberg’s words – including several that read: “blah, blah, blah” in relation to the accusations that COP26 leaders rhetoric is not matched by action.
Holding a banner that said: ‘Act as if your house is on fire, because it is’, borrowing from Greta Thunberg’s speech from 2019, was 19-year-old Glasgow University Rochelle Waldman.
“I’m studying marine biology but I’m afraid there’s going to be nothing left to study,” said Waldman, who is originally from the Netherlands and the US. “But it’s the big countries and corporations that need to change, and it’s system change that we need.
“I’ve been looking forward to COP happening and there is more legislation coming in. But slashing emissions in a decade is not enough. There is no time. And that’s why eveyone is here today. We’re done waiting.”
Also here with her nine-year-old son – part of a group of nine children and five adults – is Niamh Collins. She said the children with her were the driving force behind their attendance.
“We live in Glasgow and the whole world is looking at us right now, ” she said. “So it’s important to demonstrate that climate justice matters as much to us as it does to more disadvantaged nations. We have a voice, we’re lucky to have it and we have to use it.”
Ahead of the youth strike, The Ferret spoke to six young activists from five different continents. They come from Mombasa and Manila, Inverness and the Amazon but all share experience, albeit to different degrees, of grappling with the realities of living with climate change and the struggle to build a local and international environmental movement. All believe youth climate activism can change the future.
‘I wanted to be a doctor. But what’s the point?’
Jon Bonifacio, 24, is convenor and education coordinator at Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP). He is also active in FFF International, where he works to ensure that the voices of people in areas most affected by global warming are at the forefront of the fight for climate justice.
“The entire capital of Manila will be underwater by 2050 due to rising sea levels,” he told The Ferret. ” I wanted to be a doctor initially but then I realised, ‘what’s the point?’ The hospital I was going to do a placement at was going to be underwater within my lifetime.
“We experienced four typhoons in a single month last year which are linked to the climate crisis. Two of these were the costliest ever seen in the country. There are also several slow onset problems that need to be addressed, including changing weather patterns.
“It’s clear that there’s a sentiment among the Filipino youth that there needs to be action. Over the course of the pandemic YACAP has managed to grow.
“But I think that there are things holding us back. It’s pretty dangerous to be an activist in the Philippines. It is the worst country in Asia when it comes to the killings of environmental defenders.
“Although there’s an awareness of climate change there is also a gap in communicating the possible solutions. This means people end up feeling down or demotivated.
“I think it’s important that when we go to COP we are actually talking about the experiences of people on the ground, not limiting the discussion to abstract things like climate science. We need to explain what 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming actually means in terms of impacts on frontline communities.”
‘Kenya has suffered terrible droughts’
Sumaiya Harunany runs a daycare centre in Mombasa, Kenya and is the founder of the Blue Earth Organisation. Blue Earth organises young Kenyans to fight pollution by running advocacy programmes, holding beach clean-ups, and planting mangrove trees.
“Kenya has suffered terrible droughts, the heat is extreme right now,” she said. It is mostly affecting those who are already not well-off, particularly in villages. It is difficult for them to move to cities.
“The majority of people here don’t realise the crisis we are in, particularly living on the coast in Mombasa, with the threat of sea-level rises.
“I founded Blue Earth with my friend last year after realising the amount of pollution we are facing in Kenya and the threat of the climate crisis to my country.
“We have managed to create some awareness by doing practical things as well as advocacy. When you explain to young people what we are going through and the risks we face, they do realise and want to be a part of the solution.
“I am waiting to see the outcome from COP26. Activists all around the world are going strong and it’s high-time we are heard and actions are taken. What I’m seeing here in Kenya and Mombasa is extremely worrying.”
‘The government that doesn’t care’
“In Belem we are basically inside the Amazon rainforest,” she said “We are facing huge levels of deforestation, particularly caused by the logging industry.
“Throughout my childhood I saw big trucks carrying logs from the industries that cause deforestation. It’s less explicit than it was when I was younger, but it still exists.
“We are now facing a government that doesn’t care about environment or social justice. Across Brazil, FFF is demanding that these rights are respected.
“In Belem, we regularly organise protests at the local parliament building. We organise these actions when they are discussing bills which impact the future of the Amazon.
“I really hope that COP26 brings some change but I don’t think that world leaders are really interested in that change.”
‘The Highlands could be screwed’
Seventeen-year-old Lily Henderson from Inverness is a climate activist and member of FFF Scotland. She became involved with environmental activism after attending school strikes in the Highlands when she was 14.
“I wasn’t that interested in the environment when I was little,” she explained. “It hit me when I went to the school strikes that the climate crisis is real and something that is going to affect my life.
“There are quite a lot of unique environmental issues in the Highlands. There’s the Cairngorm mountains which is a tourism hotspot for skiing. The lack of snow and the fact that the ski season is getting shorter is quite striking.
“There’s also the issue with peat bogs in the Caithness area. They store a huge amount of carbon but as the climate has heated up they’ve dried out and are becoming more damaged.
“That’s not to mention the sea-level rises which will affect where I live in Inverness. The Highlands could be screwed if we don’t take proper action.
“A lot of my activism is based on the fact that the climate crisis is going to affect me before other people in Scotland.
“But while I might be impacted by the climate crisis before people in the Central Belt, I’m nowhere near as affected as people in the Philippines or Kenya.
“It’s important that countries like the UK acknowledge our historical emissions which are why we are a rich country.
“I have to hope that something will come out of COP. But there’s a reason that it’s the 26th one – 25 have failed before.”
‘It’s impossible to avoid the science’
Stefano Da Fre and Laura Pellegrini are film-makers from New York who are interested in the psychology of youth activism. Last year they released The Day I Had To Grow Up, a documentary following six teenage campaigners in America, including those fighting for climate justice.
“When we made the film we were curious about what was driving young people, in particular from Generation Z, into activism. “ said Da Fre
“The thing that galvanises people about climate change is that you don’t have to be a scientist to understand it, you just have to be an aware person.
“We have a wildfire season in California which used to be every five years and now it’s every year. We have less water in our major rivers. Look at the way weather patterns are changing on the North East coast.
“Because of social media, kids have so much information at their fingertips that it’s impossible to avoid issues like climate change. It’s impossible to avoid the science, it’s impossible to avoid the fact that politicians are misinterpreting reports to play it down.
“This is an advantage and a disadvantage because you can be a stay-at-home activist. The microphone has gotten louder but that needs to translate into real-world politics.”
Thanks to our contributers for providing images.