Greta Thunberg at COP26: No more greenwashing, we need action

November 10, 2021

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the 30,000-strong student climate strike in Glasgow on November 5. The following day, about 100,000 people took to Glasgow’s streets again for the COP26 Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. More than 300 protests also took place around the world.

The following is her speech to the student strike.

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It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure. It should be obvious that we cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place. And more and more people are starting to realise this. Many are asking themselves: “What will it take for the people in power to wake up?”

But let’s be clear, they are already awake. They know exactly what they are doing. They know exactly what priceless values they are sacrificing to maintain business as usual.

The leaders are not doing nothing, they are actively creating loopholes and shaping frameworks to benefit themselves and to continue profiting from this destructive system. This is an active choice by the leaders to continue to let the exploitation of people and nature and the destruction of present and future living conditions take place.

The COP has turned into a PR [public relations] 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.

It seems like their main goal is to continue to fight for the status quo. And COP26 has been named the most exclusionary COP ever. 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.

The most affected people in the most affected areas still remain unheard. And the voices of future generations are drowning in their greenwash and empty words and promises. But the facts do not lie and we know that our emperors are naked.

To stay below the target set in the Paris Agreement and thereby minimising the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control, we need immediate, drastic annual emission cuts, unlike anything the world has ever seen. And as we don’t have the technological solutions that alone will do anything even close to that, that means we will have to fundamentally change our society. And this is the uncomfortable result of our leaders’ repeated failure to address this crisis.

At the current emissions rates, our remaining CO2 [carbon dioxide] budgets to give us the best chance of staying below 1.5⁰C will be gone with the end of this decade.

And the climate and ecological crisis of course doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is directly tied to other crises and injustices that date back to colonialism and beyond. Crises based on the idea that some people are worth more than others and therefore have the right to exploit others and to steal their land and resources. And it is very naive of us to think that we could solve this crisis without addressing the root cause of it.

But this is not going to be spoken about inside the COP. It’s just too uncomfortable. It’s much easier for them to simply ignore the historical debt that the countries of the Global North have towards the most affected people and areas.

And the question we must now ask ourselves is: “What is it that we are fighting for?”

Are we fighting to save ourselves and the living planet? Or are we fighting to maintain business as usual?

Our leaders say we can have both, but the harsh truth is that that is not possible in practice. 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. All this, while the world is literally burning, on fire. And while the people living on the front lines are still bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.

They can continue to ignore the consequences of their inaction, but history will judge them poorly and we will not accept it.

We don’t need any more distant non-binding pledges. We don’t need any more empty promises. We don’t need any more commitments that are full of loopholes and incomplete statistics that ignore historical emissions and climate justice.

Yet, that is all we are getting. And no, that is not radical to say. Just look at their track record. They have had 26 COPs, they have had decades of blah, blah, blah. And where has that led us?

Over 50% of all our CO2 emissions have occurred since 1990 and about a third since 2005. All this while the media is reporting on what people in power say they are going to do, rather than what they actually do. Time and time again the media fails to hold the people in power responsible for their action and inaction, as they continue to expand fossil fuel infrastructure — opening up new coal mines, coal power plants, granting new licenses — and still refusing to do even the bare minimum, like delivering on the long-promised climate finance for loss and damage to the most vulnerable and least responsible countries. This is shameful.

Some people say that we are being too radical. But the truth is that they are the ones who are radical. Fighting to save our life support systems isn’t radical at all. Believing that our civilization — as we know it — can survive a 2.7 °C or a 3°C hotter world, on the other hand, is not only extremely radical, it’s pure madness.

Out here, we speak the truth. The people in power are obviously scared of the truth. Yet, no matter how hard they try, they cannot escape from it. They cannot ignore the scientific consensus and, above all, they cannot ignore us, the people, including their own children. They cannot ignore our screams as we reclaim our power. We are tired of their blah, blah, blah.

Our leaders are not leading. This is what leadership looks like. Thank you for showing up and see you tomorrow again at the march.

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