Greta Thunberg mightn’t be a Prime Minister (or President, for that matter), but she’s certainly making herself heard among world leaders currently attending the 2021 COP26 conference in Glasgow.
The 18-year-old climate change activist revealed last week that she is not scheduled to speak at the 12-day conference at all, despite years of work and advocacy in the space, and sparking the global phenomenon known as “Fridays For Future”, garnering a staggering following of both young and old people who consistently protest for climate action from their leaders.
But whether she gives a speech at COP26 or not, she’s already successfully infiltrated it by leading a protest in the host city and chanting a line that simply couldn’t be ignored by those within the conference walls.
That catchy phrase? “No more blah, blah, blah.”
Indeed, Greta has been vocal about the milestone conference, which is particularly significant this year given it marks five years since the Paris Agreement, and signals a time to reevaluate the promises made by world leaders at the time.
The agreement, which outlines a goal to sustain the median rise in temperature to well below two degrees, and for achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (with experts advising this be amended to 2030), is at the centre of discussions at this year’s conference.
On Wednesday, it was announced that almost 500 financial services firms had signed up to an initiative to align US$130 trillion with the Paris climate goals, with United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, Mark Carney referencing Greta’s poignant message.
“The core message today is that the money is there, the money is there for the transition, and it’s not blah blah blah.”
Meanwhile UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also used Greta’s phrase to reiterate his point in his opening address to COP26: “All those promises will be nothing but blah blah blah—to coin a phrase—and the anger and impatience of the world will be uncontainable unless we make this COP26 in Glasgow the moment when we get real about climate change.”
But will they enact change? That’s the question Greta, and millions of others are left pondering as we anxiously watch the conference play out before us.
Speaking to BBC this week, Scotland’s World Wildlife Fund director Lang Banks explained that Greta’s concerns were absolutely not without basis: “The world leaders have not stepped up to the plate. They have an opportunity now to turn their warm words we’ve heard today into action,” he explained.
To add to her appeal, Thunberg has joined forces with several other young activists from around the world including Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate, the Phillipines’ Mitzi Jonelle Tan and Poland’s Dominika Lasota.
The four activists have started a petition and written an open letter for world leaders. Calling the progress they’ve made so far a “climate betrayal”, the letter demands the outcomes of COP26 to include sticking to the goal of keeping the median temperature rise at 1.5°C alive, to put an end creative carbon accounting, and to deliver the US$100 billion promised to the world’s most vulnerable countries.
Already the emergency appeal has garnered more than 1.6 million signatures (at the time of writing). You can read it in full and sign it here.
In a similar vein to Greta, documentary maker and global treasure David Attenborough was one of the climate activists invited to address the leaders at COP26.
In his emotional speech directed solely at those in the room this week, he reiterated that the future of climate change rests on this conference.
“The people alive now are the generation to come, [and] will look at this conference and consider one thing: Did that number stop rising and start to drop as a result of commitments made here?”
He added: “There’s every reason to believe that the answer can be yes.”
The Our Planet documentary maker added: “If working apart, we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet. Surely working together, we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline.”
“In your lifetimes, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope ladies and gentleman, delegates, excellencies, is why the world is looking to you and why you are here.”
Let’s hope they listen.