While world leaders were inside debating action, Thunberg was outside taking it.
If you kept your expectations low for this year’s United Nations climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, then you might be pleasantly surprised by the developments so far. Some of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases have come together to agree to cut down on methane emissions, protect forests, and end funding for overseas fossil fuel projects. Not bad!
But if your goal is keeping Earth’s temperature from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and rendering much of the planet unlivable, well, sorry. Greta Thunberg is in the latter camp, and she sees some of the agreements coming out of COP26 as little more than feel-good press releases and world leaders patting themselves on the back while the world continues to burn.
On Friday, Thunberg took to the streets with more than 25,000 participants, according to The Wall Street Journal, and marched through Glasgow to protest the inaction of world leaders. The demonstration, which consisted mostly of young marchers, took place on the same day that the U.N. conference was set to focus on “Youth and public empowerment.” Thunberg, arguably the most recognizable youth climate activist who was the impetus for the largest climate strike in history, was outside — not talking about it, but doing it.
“The leaders are doing nothing,” Thunberg told the crowd when she took the stage after the march. “It seems like their main goal is to continue to fight for the status quo.” She knocked COP26 for being the most “exclusionary” ever, referencing the fact many countries and communities were unable to send delegations because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions — an instance of one inequality (access to vaccines) exacerbating another (input on climate policy).
Thunberg knocked the conference as a “PR exercise,” calling it a “global greenwash festival” for world leaders who have failed to address climate change in the past and are now saying the right things without truly committing. She called COP26 “a two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah," repeating a phrase that she rolled out last month when criticizing President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and other insufficient climate policies.
While there are surely world leaders who find Thunberg’s criticisms to be overly harsh, she is only holding them to their own standard. Nearly every country in the world signed the Paris Climate Agreement, which sets the goal of keeping global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius above industrial levels. A new study from the International Energy Agency found that if every climate pledge made so far was enacted and executed as promised, we’d be looking at a temperature increase of 1.8 degrees Celsius — far from the worst-case scenario, but still not the standard that the world has agreed to.
There is an easy solution to get Thunberg to lay off if the heat she brings is getting to be too much: Do more.