By William James and Elizabeth Piper
GLASGOW, Scotland – Activists are taking over the U.N. climate summit in Scotland on Friday, capping off a week of government pledges with a student march, youth-led presentations, and an iceberg shipped from Greenland to Glasgow’s River Clyde to dramatise the plight of the Arctic.
“We’re expecting lots of people to come and join us in the streets, and not only youth but also adults supporting youth, and adults that want climate action,” said activist Isabelle Axelsson, 20, with the youth movement Fridays For Future, which is organising the march, to be led by Greta Thunberg.
The spotlight has been given to civic groups in an acknowledgement of how young campaigners such as Axelsson, Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate of Uganda have raised public understanding of climate change, and how their future will be affected by the decisions being made now.
A few hours later, in Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on President Joe Biden’s mammoth “Build Back Better” legislation, which includes $555 billion of measures designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.
The COP26 talks https://www.reuters.com/business/cop in Glasgow aim to secure enough national promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions – mainly from fossil fuels – to keep the rise in the average global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists say is a tipping point towards far more extreme weather events.
The British president of the conference urged national negotiators to push harder through Friday, with a week left to secure more ambitious commitments to stop the world’s slide into climate catastrophe.
“It is not possible for a large number of unresolved issues to continue into week 2,” Alok Sharma said in a note published by the United Nations.
So far, the summit has yielded deals to try to phase out coal over the next three decades, reduce deforestation and curb methane, a far more potent, if short-lived, greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
‘NEW ENERGY, NEWURGENCY‘
It has also showcased a jumble of financial pledges, buoying hopes that national commitments to bring down emissions could actually be implemented.
“Every COP I’ve been to in history has never had the feel of what I feel here in Glasgow today: new energy, new urgency, a new sense of possibility,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told a business dinner Thursday night.
“We’ve never had as much corporate presence or commitment as we have today.”
Elsewhere this week, city mayors have been huddling over what they can do to advance climate action back home.
“National governments are slow to communicate – very bureaucratic, internally and between each other. We’re just mayors,” said Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, chair of the C40 global mayors’ network for tackling climate change.
But a clear picture has yet to emerge on how far these voluntary initiatives could moderate global warming.
The head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, said on Thursday that emissions cut pledges made so far – if all implemented – could potentially restrict warming to 1.8C. But some U.N. negotiators and non-profit organisations said that assessment was too rosy, and much more work had to be done.
Former U.S. vice president Al Gore and Sharma will sit down on Friday with campaign groups to discuss the progress made so far, and what remains unresolved.
Professor Gail Whiteman, founder of the climate activist group Arctic Basecamp, said she hoped protest actions and campaign events could add urgency to the discussions.
The Greenland iceberg, shipped by her group via Iceland to the east coast of England, then by truck to Glasgow, now bobs in the water on the Clyde.
“Studies are showing that if we lose the snow and ice in the Arctic, we will amplify global warming by 25 to 40%,” she said. “We felt that negotiators here had to actually come face to face with the Arctic, so we brought the iceberg.”