My experience at COP26 - some reflections from youth activist Amy O'Brien

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A guest blog by youth climate justice activist Amy O'Brien (she/her) who travelled to COP26 with our Head of Movement Building, Emma Jayne Geraghty. Amy reflects on her experience in Glasgow during the Climate Talks. 

I travelled to Glasgow for COP26 by ferry and trains, I was fortunate to also have a very central hotel as well. Many activists slept on people’s floors and often travelled each day from Edinburgh; if they could make it at all. I loved the autumnal train journey through the valleys of England and Scotland, there was a beautiful view of nature from my seat!

On my first day in Glasgow, I went on a Toxic Tour. This was an organised walking tour around Glasgow to different statues, buildings and company offices learning about the colonial history of Glasgow, highlighting greenwashing adverts from corporations, explaining how fossil fuel companies who are causing this crisis are influencing COP26 and also from indigenous people and those most impacted by the crisis about the injustice they are facing at the frontlines!

That day, I also spent time planning actions, banner making, meeting other youth activists from around the world and taking part in an Intersectionality Workshop at a Youth Hub near the city’s University.

Then Friday came along. The Fridays for Future climate strike had 25,000 people (many of whom were students out on the streets rather than in class). During the march, I was filled with hope. Not blind hope, not passive hope but the kind of hope that is created from action. I had hope that we could achieve climate justice against all odds including COP26 itself because the people gave me hope. They reminded me once again that I'm not alone, that I'm part of a movement deeper and wider than I can ever know and that movement is fuelled not by hate, but by love for humanity, for people suffering miles away with countries in between us, for every creature. That is the love that will win the revolution. That same collective of people also encouraged me to continue fighting, to fight for them.

In the rally that followed, I learned so much from the speakers who stood on the stage in St Georges Square including indigenous groups, Jon Bonifacio from the Philippines, Mikaela Laoch who calls Jamaica and the UK home, Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, Greta Thunberg and many more beautiful people!

youth demand system reset

This COP26 has been described as our ‘Last Best Chance’ but has also been named ‘The Most Exclusionary COP Ever’! How can we pin our hopes for justice on climate talks that do not properly include indigenous communities and that actively silence those actually experiencing the crisis. Meanwhile, the largest delegation at COP26 is the fossil fuel industry (yes, the ones causing the climate crisis) and the UK government who are hosting the conference, are planning to approve a new oil and gas field called Cambo that goes against any action towards a liveable future. So while Boris Johnson has quoted Greta in his speeches, his government is also funnelling £4 billion of public money into the fossil fuel industry rather than into social housing, public transport, climate reparations, the health care system, mental health services, education and much more! So much of this COP has involved greenwashing, hypocrisy and actually, violence from the people our world is turning to!

As Mikalea said in her speech that day, ‘Last week my heart was broken by the people inside that COP building, by the “World Leaders” who steal our sacred words and use them to defend and uphold the oppressive systems of capitalism and white supremacy. Who tell us that action needed to prevent sea level rise engulfing my ancestral home in Jamaica is ‘impossible’ or ‘not practical’. In this heartbreak, fear and despair; I felt weak. But I WILL allow myself the space for my heart to break. So that the gold of community can be poured into those cracks and make it stronger, make it bigger because every time my heart breaks; it is made stronger.’

destroy capitalism not the planet

The Global Day of Action was the Saturday of my trip and over 100,000 people came together in the city of Glasgow with 300 decentralised actions too! Amongst immense creativity from bagging saucepans from people’s apartment windows to make noise to the wonderful, colourful banners around me; I got to see a glimpse at the world we could create. As activists danced in the rain, I saw the joy we could and all deserve to hold and as we cheered at the rainbow that joined us, I saw the sense of community we could embrace. Trade Unions, students, different activist groups, migrant networks, faith groups and more joined the march in coalition; all led by the indigenous community. We bellowed, not for climate action, but for climate justice that includes everyone. We need transformation because we can't just tolerate oppressive systems. But marching for climate justice, we were united for a better future!

I also got to chat to amazing activists after the march who I’d mainly or exclusively met on zoom calls such as Beth Doherty, Theresea Rose Sebastian and Saoirse Exton along with people I didn’t know yet. I was so grateful to speak to people from so many countries including Costa Rica, Croatia, the Philippines and many others. A huge part of my time in Glasgow was definitely about connecting with people, particularly those doing similar work to me. Only together can we use love, our emotions and kindness to push for radical change!

One of the biggest things that was reinforced for me in Glasgow, outside COP26, was the power of our voices and collective action. I saw activists kettled and held by the police during a peaceful protest, I noticed myself being surrounded by police who were flooding in from everywhere during a walking tour that happened to be talking about colonisation, the fossil fuel industry and the violence indigenous communities have faced and witnessed these police propped up on horses. Listening to MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas) many of whom were not able to be with us, I was reminded of the many environmental defenders who have been labelled terrorists and even been assassinated for protecting nature and each of us with it. As the numbers on the streets increased, so did the level of greenwashing. I was reminded that we are not the radical ones for wanting a liveable, just, equitable future; but the ones who are trying all they can to ensure we continue as we are and leading us into extinction.

Our voices, skills, capacities and imaginations are all needed in the climate justice movement and I’m going to continue fighting for liberation at home. I hope you will join me!



Categorised in:
Activism Climate Change