Greta Thunberg slams COP26 climate summit, calling it a 'PR event'

At a rally in Glasgow, Scotland, during the UN climate conference there, the Swedish activist declares COP26 a failure and a "celebration of business as usual."

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
4 min read

Greta Thunberg at a rally in Glasgow.

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Climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed an audience of thousands in Glasgow, Scotland, on Friday, telling them that the COP26 climate change summit taking place in the city this week was a PR exercise and a failure.

"COP26 has been named the most exclusionary COP ever," she said at the rally in the city's George Square. "This is no longer a climate conference. This is now a global North greenwash festival, a two-week long celebration of business as usual, and blah, blah, blah." 

She added that leaders knew they were actively creating loopholes and frameworks that would continue to benefit them without solving the climate crisis. The conference has become "a PR event where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains the governments of the global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action" she said.

The 18-year-old Thunberg spoke following a protest where local children joined with activists from around the world to walk across the city as part of the Fridays for Future climate strike. They were advocating for climate justice, a movement that sees the climate crisis as not just a scientific problem but also an issue of social injustice. The group advocates in favor of those who are suffering the worst as a result of climate change.

Activists arrive at COP26 with strong messages urging swift climate action

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Friday's protest took place against the backdrop of the United Nations' climate summit, COP26, which began Oct. 31 and runs through Nov. 12. The aim of the conference is for negotiators from countries worldwide to agree on plans to prevent global temperatures rising beyond 1.5 degrees celsius. Inside the summit, less than a mile down the road from the protest, delegates and negotiators were taking part in youth day.

"Wherever I have been in the world, I have been struck by the passion and the commitment of young people to climate action," said COP26 President Alok Sharma. "The voices of young people must be heard and reflected in these negotiations here at COP."

It was out on the street where young people were making their voices heard. They carried signs with slogans like, "You'll die of old age. I'll die of climate change" and, "I'm missing my lessons to teach you a lesson."

The march began at Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow's West End around midday, where protestors kicked up autumn leaves as they began their two-mile walk to the city-center rally. Some of the young people marching were delegates at the summit but had chosen to take part in the march rather than head to the conference center on Friday.

"We're happy to be at the strikes, because we're finally feeling like we're doing something ... whereas inside the Blue Zone it hasn't been the case at all," said 19-year-old Lia Jimenez, a student from France, who was referring to the summit's main venue.

"Actually this is the real youth empowerment," said Selma Vincent, also 19. "Today's supposed to be youth empowerment, but the youth isn't actually being listened to properly [or] included in the decision making processes."

Thunberg spoke last at the event, emerging to rapturous cheering and applause. As soon as she began her speech, the square descended into total silence. "The people in power can continue to live in their bubble filled with ... fantasies like eternal growth on a finite planet and technological solutions that will suddenly appear seemingly out of nowhere and will erase all of these crises just like that," she said. "Leaders are not leading."

Alongside Thunberg, Indigenous speakers from Brazil and Ecuador who led the march asked the crowd to help them protect the Amazon rainforest and their land where oil drilling is taking place. "I'm only following the footsteps of my people and of my elders, and now the youth have come here because it's been going on for generations and generations," said Helena Gualinga, a 19-year-old from Ecuador. "The children behind me, they're not supposed to have to do this in 20 years."


Indigenous people from the Amazon led the Fridays For Future march through Glasgow.

Katie Collins/CNET

Speakers from Colombia talked about how the country was the most dangerous in the world to be a climate activist, and paid homage to people who'd been assassinated while battling to protect the environment. Representatives from Fridays for Future read out testimonies from young Afghan activists who'd been evacuated from the country after being persecuted by the Taliban.

Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate gave a speech painting a picture of a world in which climate justice had taken hold. "Three things should stay with us as we continue to organize and mobilize and strike and speak up and demand for climate justice," she said. "That is: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these things is love. Because when we continue to love the people, when we continue to love the planet, that will be the strength we need to fight for a future that is sustainable, that is healthy, that is clean and equitable for all of us."