'COP is just a theatre run by capitalists'

Teenagers from Friday For Future Scotland speak at a Green Zone event at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. 

Teen activists from Fridays For Future discuss climate anxiety, the billionaire press, capitalism, lobbying - and solidarity.

We are begging them to make a difference. We are begging them to help us, to save us. But they just ignore it. 

Teenage activists from Fridays For Future Scotland have condemned COP26 as “capitalist theatre” flooded with “fossil fuel lobbyists” and compromised by greenwashing and corporate sponsorship during a live debate yesterday in the Green Zone of the UN climate conference in Glasgow.

The five school students aged between 15 and 17 discussed climate anxiety, the lack of climate science in secondary education, the failure of the billionaire press to report the science, the broken promises made by world leaders at previous COPs, and the need for frontline activism and solidarity.

Fridays For Future is a youth-led international movement which started when Greta Thunberg, then aged 15, began striking from school and protesting outside the Swedish parliament. It has inspired 14 million people to take part in more than 7,500 protests, including a march of 30,000 people in Glasgow during the COP conference.


Dillon, 17, a Fridays For Future member from Linlithgow, told a packed audience of 120 people: “Young people have a sense of urgency. For older people it’s been a slow build up, there has never been that sense of ‘oh my god, this is happening’. But we are being told in class that 'everything is going really badly, the icecaps are melting, sea levels are going to rise and there is going to be a lot of destruction - go play outside now'.

“Climate anxiety is a really, really big deal for the majority of young people right now. It often gets side-lined, we often hear people talk about teenagers being just hormonal and worried and ‘it’s not rational’. But climate anxiety is incredibly rational. We’re being told that billions of people are going to suffer within our lifetimes, and then we are told to move on and not think about that.

“Our society does not have a lot of empathy. For us to live our lives someone else has to suffer somewhere. When we skip school, when we have our strikes, we have a lot of conversations and that is when the climate anxiety is not there, when I am with Fridays For Future. Even if we do not succeed, we are in this together and that solidarity can really help.”

She added: “I wish I could say that I thought COP would do a good job, and that we would see any of the things we need to come out of it. But that’s not realistic. These summits, and especially this one, feel incredibly performative. It’s filled with greenwashing and so many promises that we know that will never happen. This COP has probably the most inaccessible COP ever, partly because of the pandemic. It’s much easier for them to push out the voices that need to be heard the most.”

We are begging them to make a difference. We are begging them to help us, to save us. But they just ignore it. 

Lilly, 17, from Inverness, said: “We have been thrown into this crisis. It is so important that there is action. The Fridays For Future movement has not been around for as long as COP but we have had an impact. There were 30,000 people on the streets and that’s the biggest youth strike there has been in Scotland - which is amazing to say.”

Fancy wine

Asked what she would say to the world leaders at the Glasgow conference, she added: “First of all, why do we have polluters sponsoring an event on climate change? That part baffles me. That makes no sense of all. We have to kick the polluters out now. It creates a sense of powerlessness. It is horrible and completely wrong.

“We are missing our targets in Scotland. I don’t understand it. I never expected that I would be calling myself a climate activist. But we have to do something. It is about more than climate justice, it’s about social justice because it’s going to impact all of us in different ways. I am going to live through all the targets, and that seems terrifying to me.”

Cora, 15, from Edinburgh, said: “We need to really change how politics looks in our society. Having that one leader that makes all the calls even when they are not specifically educated in climate change? We need people who have had the experience of climate change impacts, say if they are from the Global South, in power. Having people who didn’t all go to Cambridge in government in a massive superpower would be beneficial for ordinary people, working class people, and people in the Global South, so we can have better policies.”

She added: “We all know that COP is just a theatre run by capitalists. We know that when COP is finished we will just have empty promises and false solutions. We can expect that again and again. We are letting those people who are putting profit over the people and the planet run it, letting them be in charge. We’re letting them get the photo op and drink the fancy wine. They know they can get away with it.

“Letting that kind of capitalist theatre run every COP, we are never going to see the change that we need now. It will come back to doing stuff without that kind of world negotiation. It has to come back to individual countries, they need to start adopting their own policies. We know that COP is never going to work. The capitalists cannot do it.”


She concluded: “We need system change. We need the massive companies taxed, and taxed properly. The just transition is going to cost a lot of money…to get that change we have to start taxing the top one hundred companies that are actually responsible for emissions. I am vegan but that alone does not create that change that we need to see.”

Bessy, 15, from Glasgow, said: “It’s really about children. Children have to be doing this because no-one is listening. If we have to resort to that, it is already going badly. Do I go to double physics today or fight for a world that I want to live in? A lot of emotions are brought up because I should not be having to make these decisions. It’s not just a job or a career for us. It is something we believe we have to do.”

Asked about the politicians, she added: “They just need to listen, these world leaders have been voted in and are here to represent the people. But they are not. They just see it as a social gathering. A party. A gala. A ball. But it’s not that. We are begging them to make a difference. We are begging them to help us, to save us. But they just ignore it. We are ignored. They need to listen to the scientists. To be acknowledged and to have something done about it.”

Bessy, however, did not hold out much hope for COP26. “I don’t think it will be exceptional. We’ve already had 25 COPs before this, how is this one going be different? It is during a pandemic but that does not mean that it is going to make it better. I think the changes we will see will be very minimal.

“I really am hoping we will see bigger change. We’ve had so many activists and people who really care at the front. We would hope the climate strikes mean something to those people making decisions. But from the trends we have seen in the past I doubt we will see much meaningful change.”


Cammie, 15, a Scottish climate justice activist, said: “The fact that we have to sacrifice our education shows how much this means to us and how much we care about the world we are going to grow up in, about the future. We’re skipping school just to have any hope of a liveable future. That sends a strong message about how much we care about this issue.

“One of the biggest issues for me is the platform given to people like fossil fuel lobbyists. Even at this COP there are hundreds of delegates from the fossil fuel industry – a conference about climate change. It really makes no sense whatsoever. The media quite often on their reports on youth strikes can be very condescending and untruthful. There needs to be better coverage of the climate crisis.”

He said world leaders “really need to start taking this seriously. They say they care about this crisis and they want to make change and make the transition away from fossil fuels and everything else that causes climate change. But they show time and time again that as soon as the speeches are over they forget everything they just said and continue to fund and allow fossil fuel projects like Cambo oil field in the North Sea – Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon refuse to take action.”

He concluded: “This year [COP] is following a similar pattern that we have seen in previous years. Big bold statements and promises made about leading climate action. But as we have seen in the last far too many COPs that we have had, none of these promises are upheld or targets met. We have nothing that is legally binding or any consequences for these leaders if they fail to meet the targets. On paper, a lot of things they have announced, like ending deforestation, sounds good but in all honesty, I doubt it will be very successful.”

The panel discussion was part of a series of events being held in the Green Zone of the COP26 conference, alongside stalls and advertising from sponsors including Land Rover, Microsoft and GSK. The Blue Zone, where delegates from countries around the world are discussing possible climate mitigation policies, is a short walk away but closed off to the public by high fences and tight security.

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Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.


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