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Greta 2.0

Greta 2.0

The UK Cop presidency has made ending coal use its main mission. Will a new global deal succeed in banishing the black stuff?

If you were planning a second act to follow Greta Thunberg’s school strikes, it would probably look something like yesterday’s protest in Glasgow: 25,000 people, from school children to older eco-warriors, marching with a single message – do something about the climate crisis before it’s too late. It was directed squarely at the delegates thrashing out agreements in the conference centre a few hundred metres away. There were no arrests. The notorious Scottish winter had a rare day off. And Greta stole the show. 

Blah blah blah. Thunberg led the march yesterday under the Fridays for Future banner, a campaign she started in 2018 to voice her anger at inaction on climate by taking the day off school. In three years it, and her place in the climate conversation, has ballooned.

She’s been a regular fixture in the Cop news cycle in speeches, photo opportunities and a nod to her most recent call to arms (the “blah blah blah” of greenwashing) from Boris Johnson. The Greta 2.0 message is fundamentally the same as before, but emphatically not vanilla: 

  • Early in the week a video circulated of Thunberg singing at a festival on Glasgow’s southside (“take your climate crisis and shove it up your ass”) and telling the crowd: “No more exploitation of people, nature and the planet. No more whatever the f*ck they are doing inside there”.
  • She later tweeted she was going “net zero” on swear words, but soon afterwards stormed out of a meeting held by Mark Carney to announce his Gfanz climate finance scheme, shouting “stop greenwashing”.

Thunberg has always been angry, and the US climate envoy John Kerry said last night she had every right to be. Kerry is a veteran of most Cops since 2009 and he said this was the first where “delegates were more afraid of the kids than the press”. So either the press isn’t doing its job properly, or her anger is having its intended effect. 

What do the kids think?

  • Glasgow schoolgirls, still in their uniforms, told us it was the first time they’d been to anything like the protest: “There was one a few years back [and] I was thinking about going but I wasn’t really interested in that,” Waiata, 15, said. So something’s clearly changed.
  • Some Cop observers, identifiable by their UN lanyards, joined the throng. Virginia Felice, from New York, said she felt excluded from the Cop conversation despite the allocation of a whole day for “Youth and Empowerment”, and saw the protest as a chance to “just scream and shout”.
  • Ugandan climate justice activist and advocate Rose Kobusinge said she found hope in the cross generational, cross-economic spectrum of the march and in the spectacle of young Glaswegians – who feel the impact of climate change less than most – joining the protest. 

And Labour? 

It’s been a quiet week for the opposition on climate considering the opportunities of Cop, but Ed Miliband and Westminster’s youngest MP, Nadia Whittome, showed up in George Square. Whittome closely followed Thunberg’s line: “We are all angry because the climate crisis was not of our making. We are the mass movement that is going to force our world leaders to listen”. Miliband noted the “big difference” between feelings in the Blue Zone, where the sense was “progress was being made” and at the protest that “not enough was being done”. 

The Greta effect is undeniable. About 10,000 were expected to attend the protest and twice as many turned up. But she’s unlikely to get the radical, rapid action she wants from Cop. Kerry arrived late to the New York Times climate hub yesterday because talks with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua had run late. Kerry wouldn’t get into it but it’s in those talks, more than any, that the outcome of this Cop will be decided – and James Cameron, an advisor to the UK government, said today that while week one had been good on aspiration, week two was going to be a big lift in terms of implementation.

Greta is already calling Cop26 a failure and a PR exercise but not every activist is so disheartened. Rose Kobusinge told us she’ll be back for Cop27, hopeful that being in Egypt gives the African delegates – young and old – a stronger voice. 

What next? Three times as many people are expected to take to Glasgow’s streets today – although torrential rain may dampen the atmosphere. Will any of it make a difference to negotiations in the Blue Zone? We’ll find out next week. 

The Readout

At yesterday’s ThinkIn in partnership with Edelman, we heard from Ed Williams, President and CEO of Edelman EMEA, Rebecca Marmot, Chief Sustainability Officer at Unilever, and international authority on climate and biodiversity Professor Robert Watson, on how to restore trust and close the gap between the “say” and “do” of net zero pledges.

Key points: 

  • People are already aware of the danger of the climate crisis. What’s needed now is to communicate now is that it’s not a hopeless fight.
  • Show that embracing climate solutions can be cost-effective rather than costing people jobs and assets.
  • Long term climate solutions can work in conjunction with the short-term goals of corporations and the term-long constraints of politicians, as voters and consumers are now adequately concerned about the climate crisis. 

If you missed the ThinkIn, you can read our summary and watch it back in our app.

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Join us at Cop 26 for a series of ThinkIns at The New York Times Climate Hub in Glasgow


The five trillion dollar man
Forget the $130 trillion for a moment. As we suggested yesterday, that’s too big to believe or even comprehend. A more realistic private sector climate finance number offered yesterday by John Kerry at the NYT climate hub was $5.16 trillion over ten years. The US climate envoy broke that up into $4.16 pledged personally to him by America’s biggest six banks, and an extra billion promised by Larry Fink, the Blackwater CEO. Round it down to the nearest trillion and you have a decent uptick on the $100 billion still not quite scraped together by the global public sector. “Yes, there’ll probably be some greenwash,” Kerry said, “and it’s our job to make sure you can’t do that.” Question: what do those banks do with that money if Trump or a Trumpista wins in 2024? The idea that you can’t depend on the US any more is a big part of the context of this Cop.


Walruses from space
Space.com has a story about packs of walruses so big they can be seen from space. It’s the packs rather than individual walruses that are this big, although no doubt if you zoomed in close enough you could count them. But the point is their location, on dry land. Arctic melting has forced them onto remote stretches of the Alaska shoreline rather than their preferred pack ice for what are known as “haulouts” – extended periods of rest and relaxation that turn out to be less relaxing when the venue is shared with humans. A study by the US Geological Survey finds that when humans scare the walruses they stampede back into the water and many die in the process. So this is partly a new version of the polar bear story; another knock-on effect of the retreat of Arctic summer sea ice. But it’s also another example of the power of satellite imagery to monitor the effect of climate change without disturbing nature, which is slightly less miserable. 

100-year life

A day for doctors?
Should climate change be reframed as a health crisis? The idea of introducing a specific day to consider the relationship between climate and health in future Cops is gaining traction for two reasons. First, new data consistently confirms the toll on human health of burning fossil fuels. For instance, particulate pollution in the G20 is blamed for 78,000 premature deaths of infants worldwide every year. Meanwhile, the Lancet Countdown report shows that suitable transmission conditions for Zika and malaria are both becoming more common due to warming. The other reason health is getting attention is that the healthcare sector now accounts for close to 5 per cent of global CO2 emissions. That footprint is expected to grow, especially since Covid has pushed us all back to square one with single-use plastic. In response, 43,000 hospitals in 72 countries have signed on as members of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals network. The NHS has also pledged to reach Net Zero… by 2045.


Turning tankers
Satellite data has revealed that Qatar has redirected four large tankers full of natural gas towards the UK after Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, held talks about energy security with Doha earlier this month. The FT says the arrangement to enlist Qatar as “a supplier of last resort” was prompted by concerns in Downing Street about increased competition with Asia over gas supplies. Natural gas accounts for 40 per cent of UK power generation, and with supplies from the North Sea declining, imports are becoming integral to Britain’s energy strategy. The EU is in a similar pickle, but rankles over a European investigation into QatarEnergy’s long-term contracts has meant the bloc has not been afforded the same favour. The Emir of Qatar and Boris Johnson met again on the sidelines of Cop this week – a reminder if one were needed that for all the talk of a renewable revolution, gas still matters.

Do share this around, and let us know what you think of it.

Thanks for reading.

Phoebe Davis

Additional reporting by Barney Macintyre and Giles Whittell.

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