COP26: Tens of thousands march to demand action on biggest day of protests at climate summit

·4-min read

Tens of thousands of people joined protests across the UK demanding more action on climate change as the COP26 summit heads into its second week.

In Glasgow, the wind and rain were not enough to deter environmental groups, charities, climate activists, trade unionists, and indigenous people gathering from around the world.

The latter represented many communities on the frontline of the climate crisis, whose homes are most at risk.

Police would not estimate how many people turned up, but the COP26 Coalition, which organised the protest, put the number at more than 100,000.

That makes it the biggest protest of the climate summit so far.

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie said that the day had "passed largely without incident", but there were 21 arrests during the rally, with demonstrators forcibly removed from a city centre bridge.

He added that officers had contended with a public protest "the size and scale of which was beyond anything many of us - both within and outwith policing - can ever remember".

Organisers also said that there were an estimated 300 events taking place worldwide.

Asad Rehman, spokesman for the COP26 Coalition, said: "Many thousands of people took to the streets today on every continent demanding that governments move from climate inaction to climate justice.

"We won't tolerate warm words and long-term targets any more, we want action now."

COP26: Saturday's events as they happened

People had hoped to hear Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg address the crowd in Glasgow, but the 18-year-old cancelled her speech.

It is understood she wanted to allow more space for indigenous people at the protest and others from marginalised backgrounds to be heard.

On Friday she had criticised leaders for talking but taking little action, dismissing the summit as "blah blah blah".

One of the world leaders keen for COP26 to be seen as a success is Boris Johnson, who has urged ministers and negotiators to "pull together and drive for the line" in the second week of the conference.

Mr Johnson said: "There is one week left for COP26 to deliver for the world, and we must all pull together and drive for the line.

"We have seen nations bring ambition and action to help limit rising temperatures, with new pledges to cut carbon and methane emissions, end deforestation, phase out coal and provide more finance to countries most vulnerable to climate change.

"But we cannot underestimate the task at hand to keep 1.5C alive."

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate spoke on Saturday, however, saying that communities such as hers were already feeling the effects of the warming climate.

"It's already destruction. It's already suffering. It's already disaster. Any rise will only make things worse," she said.

"Leaders rarely have the courage to lead. It takes citizens, people like you and me, to rise up and demand action. And when we do that in great enough numbers, our leaders will move.

"Until then, we must demand that our leaders treat the climate crisis like our crisis, we must demand that our leaders stop holding meaningless summits and start taking meaningful action."

In London, thousands of people gathered at the Bank of England to march through the city.

They chanted "one solution", and waved Extinction Rebellion banners saying "tell the truth".

In Belfast, protesters marched through the city and held a rally at City Hall.

At COP26 itself, actor Idris Elba was among those who spoke, saying leaders and policymakers need to hear from more diverse voices, or they risk ignoring a continent "central to the solution" of climate change.

The actor and his wife, model Sabrina Elba, were speaking at a COP26 event on sustainable food production.

Addressing the importance of diversity in the debate, Elba said hearing from African voices is vital.

He told Sky's Ashna Hurynag: "Sabrina and I stand as human beings first, as part of this planet. But absolutely, yes, it's important for us as proud Africans to be a part of this debate."

The Luther star and United Nations ambassador had invited Ms Nakate to speak at the event.

Referring to an instance when Ms Nakate was cropped from a photo of high-profile campaigners in Davos in 2020, Elba said it implied irrelevance.

"The media are not just cutting out Vanessa, they're cutting out a whole continent. That continent is very central to this debate. It's very central to the solutions," he said.

"Africa is the only land mass in the world where you can create a huge, leadership city sustainably, led by young people. We're in a position to influence now. So yes it's important we have Vanessa, Idris, Sabrina, Agnes, everyone of colour speaking up for this debate because it's right in the centre of it."

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