Now that the climate summit that is COP26 has come to a close, let’s take a look at the activities that didn’t quite make the headlines but certainly added the much-needed energy and charisma to the proceedings.

Controversy, Protests and Disappointment

Controversy accredited to COP26 has been rippling through the UK the past weeks, culminating in protests throughout November.

COP26 (Conference of the Parties) is the annual UN climate change conference. Marketed as ‘A pivotal moment in the fight against climate change’, several key leaders and influential people came to Glasgow to discuss how to combat environmental issues. Notably, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping were absent. The cause of controversy was the growing discomfort amongst different groups that COP26 is a shambles and a façade. Most of all, that the conference has not done enough to make a difference.

I had the chance to go to the protests happening around Glasgow and talk and photograph the activists taking to the streets to have their voices heard. The discontent was deafening, and the media has taken notice, firing people’s voices all over social media.

It has become common knowledge that the richest UN countries have failed to deliver the promised $100bn to developing countries by 2020. This highlights the shadow of imperialism that still hovers over the issue of climate change today. It is no secret that indigenous communities feel the heat of climate change disproportionately more than the western world.

This year’s activists

Minga Indigena were protesting the inequality of climate change and the lack of coalition between communities and countries. Their aim is to ensure that indigenous leaders can fully enter international space to participate effectively in global decisions such as COP26. These leaders come from areas such as the Andes, the Amazon, and Northern Alaska with a wish to further climate and biocultural diversity. The need to protect water sources is vital to Minga Indigina as they try to educate people on indigenous cultures, which advocate that water is the source of life. With Climate change negatively impacting fragile ecosystems and relationships with springs, rivers, and lakes Minga Indigena is voicing the global need for teamwork.

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On a similar thread, Zurciendo el Planeta (Darning the planet) is a group of Latin American women that began virtual workshops throughout Covid-19 on ecology and urban gardening. The women created a strong bond throughout the pandemic and continued embroidering. They brought their imaginative artwork to the COP26 protests with the aim of showing that there is hope for a more sustainable future. They have been asking people to visualise a better future and use art to help create that vision. The hope is that if we can visualise it, we can create it.

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Fashion Revolution highlights a significant contributor to climate change — fast fashion. Flourishing online stores and cheap clothing have created a dark space in the fashion industry. ‘Who makes your clothes?’ Fashion Revolution’s key phrase can open your eyes to the nauseating world of slave labour. This mostly impacts women from developing countries who are paid little and forced to work in barbaric conditions. It is easy to see a beautiful piece of clothing and forget that someone has had to make it. Fashion Revolution stands for the transformation of the industry, where people and the environment are prioritised over cold profit.

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As I was wandering around, I noticed several people dressed as mushrooms. I went over to talk to them and found out more about their creative costumes. Vegan leather can be made from mushrooms, a more sustainable and environmentally friendly material than animal leather. By using mushrooms, you can convert waste into useful material and store carbon — since mushrooms accumulate it in the fungus. Another advantage is that fungi leather can take just a couple of weeks to create compared to the years it takes to raise a cow. With animal agriculture accounting for 14.5 and 18 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, fungi leather seems like a viable and more desirable option to help lower that number.

Of course, the most famous climate activist group, Extinction Rebellion, was present with ever more creative approaches to being heard. If you couldn’t see them first, you could certainly hear them with loud war-like anthems being echoed across the city.

Penultimately, a group dressed as human rats emerged from the side streets. CorpRat activists raise awareness about ecocide and corporation climate murder. They call attention to the use of private jets and arms dealerships that continue despite climate change. Protesting that governments and corporations only want profit, reflected the general air of discontent during COP26 and the argument that the talks are a façade. Their most famous banner stated, ‘when COP fails, buy corporate’. They further highlighted the greenwashing going on around the city with corporate sponsors.

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Finally, there were those that came individually, putting their own poignant spin on the impact of climate change. If COP26 taught us anything, it is that there is still a long way to go and that we must keep making a difference. It also showed that there are many of us who are willing to do so.

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