Protest organizers hoped to draw large crowds to the streets of Glasgow on Saturday to demand urgent action against a climate crisis that is already flooding cities, wiping towns off the map, destroying forests, and fueling storms, heat waves and droughts around the world.
Over the past week, world leaders and diplomats from hundreds of countries have gathered at the U.N. climate conference, making lofty pronouncements and announcing progress, including landmark agreements to end deforestation and reduce methane emissions. But the commitments would, at best, slow the rate of global warming, not halt it.
For activists across the globe, including many young people alarmed about inheriting a planet on the brink of disaster, the talks amount to what Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish climate activist, on Friday called a “two-week-long celebration of business as usual and ‘blah, blah, blah.’”
Capturing the global mood of impatience and frustration among her allies, Ms. Thunberg, who has helped galvanize a generation to action, castigated world leaders for empty promises. Speaking to thousands of protesters at a youth-led rally in Glasgow on Friday, she called the United Nations talks a “failure.”
“The leaders are not doing nothing,” she said. “They are actively creating loopholes, shaping frameworks to benefit themselves to continue profiting from this destructive system.”
Her words were greeted with cheers.
Moments before she spoke, Vanessa Nakate, an activist from Uganda, bemoaned the inaction that had followed previous international climate talks.
“How many more of these should they hold until they realize that their inactions are destroying the planet?” she asked.
But Michael E. Mann, a prominent climate scientist, took to Twitter to defend the summit, however short it might fall of what is needed. “Activists declaring it dead on arrival makes fossil fuel executives jump for joy,” he wrote.
The conference has underlined the socio-economic disparities shaping global climate policy, in some cases pitting advanced industrialized countries like the United States and European Union nations against emerging economies, including China, India and South Africa. On Friday, activists from South America, Central America, Africa and Asia berated their leaders for failed climate policies and criticized international leaders for ignoring the developing world.
As many as 100,000 people were expected to take the streets of Glasgow on Saturday. Climate activists from across the world have arrived in the city this week, demanding change, disrupting talks held by gas giants and staging theatrical spectacles on the fringes of the summit.
But the presence of environmental activists inside the meeting itself has been muted, in part because of pandemic restrictions, and some were unable to attend the event at all.
Within the conference, countries are debating how to deliver on the unmet promises of years past, including a pledge of $100 billion in annual aid from 2020 to 2025 from wealthy countries to help poorer ones adapt to a warming planet.
Countries that are most at risk from the effects of climate change in the developing world are also pushing major carbon-emitting nations to increase their annual targets to keep global temperatures from rising past 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with levels before the Industrial Revolution.
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