GLASGOW, Scotland — Masses of young people took to the streets outside the global climate summit on Friday to voice their impatience, frustration and even disdain for the older generation of leaders and emitters who set the world on a trajectory of catastrophic warming — and don’t have the courage to save the planet now.

Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg led the charge, in a “Fridays for Future” student demonstration of young adults and children who came out with their parents. There was a family-friendly atmosphere, with pets along for the march and protest signs lettered in crayons. Organizers said 25,000 people attended.

The day presented a powerful reality check: Kids, representing the future, were on the march, while the old guard — including former Vice President Al Gore, 73, and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, 77 — were inside the hall with negotiators, expressing guarded optimism that more progress was being made than thought possible just a few weeks ago.

More about U.N. climate summit in Glasgow

In contrast to the hopeful attitudes expressed by global leaders that progress was being made, Thunberg had no kind words for COP26, decrying it as “a global north green wash festival.”

“It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure,” Thunberg told the crowd at George Square. “It should be obvious that we cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.”


Detailing her vision, she continued: “We need immediate, drastic annual emission cuts unlike anything the world has ever seen,” she said. “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.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, host of the summit, believes his society will change. People in Brain will drive electric cars, get more of their power from offshore wind turbines and live in well-insulated homes by the 2030s, he promised.

But the British leader is certainly not envisioning change on Thunberg’s level or timetable. Johnson, after all, decided not to the take the train back on the 400-mile journey from Glasgow to London. Instead, he flew in a private jet. His spokesman explained it was a fuel-efficient jet.

Asked Friday if he understood the frustrations of the young people, Kerry replied, “I’m as frustrated as a lot of people. We started this journey back in 1988 … I believe what is happening here is far from business as usual,” he said, as the protesters outside waved signs reading “blah, blah, blah.”

Kerry said he felt “a greater sense of urgency” and “a greater sense of focus” than he’s ever seen in his many years attending climate summits.

Thunberg, however, accused leaders of doing worse than nothing. “They are actively creating loopholes and shaping frameworks to benefit themselves and to continue profiting from this destructive system,” she said. “This is an active choice by the leaders to continue to let the exploitation of people and nature, and the destruction of future and present living conditions, to take place.”


Maia Piermattei, 20, a university student, was among the throngs packed into George Square listening to Thunberg.

She said she was struck by how Thunberg appeared. “She’s not just young, she’s physically small, she really looks like a child,” Piermattei said. “And yet what she says is so powerful. She has leadership.”

Piermattei contrasted this to the leaders gathered at the COP26 summit, where she has been waitressing.

“I don’t feel as represented by them as I do by Greta. She feels like one of us,” she said.

Vanessa Nakate, a 24-year-old activist from Kampala, Uganda, was among the many speakers addressing the inequities of climate change.

“We are in a disaster that is happening every day,” she said, noting that “floods are ravaging” different parts of her country.


Africa, she said, is responsible for only 3% of historical global emissions, and yet it is suffering some of the greatest impacts of a warming planet.

These countries are “on the front lines of the crisis, but not on the front pages of the newspapers,” said Nakate, who herself was on the cover of Time magazine last month. “How will we have climate justice if people from the most affected areas are not being listened to?”

Many young Glaswegians took to the streets Friday, making their debut as climate change protesters after securing permission from parents to skip school. They carried homemade signs like “No more blah blah blah” and “The oceans are rising and so are we.”

Hannah Lowdon, 10, came to “my first COP, my first protest” holding a homemade sign that read: “Climate is changing. Why aren’t we?”

She described activist Thunberg as “my idol” and said she was really hoping to see the Swedish teen because she had shown the world that “kids can do a lot” and “adults don’t have to do everything.”

Aoidhe Featherstone, 10, was leading a chant in the middle of the march that snaked through central Glasgow. “I think we can save the planet but we have to act now,” said Aoidhe.


Her mother, Mo Hume, 49, said that she’d taken her daughter to protests before, but this time the dynamics had shifted.

“This one is driven by her; we are accompanying her. There are lessons here for adults on how we take on this issue,” she said.

United Nations officials on Friday said 14 more countries had submitted new or updated climate plans since the beginning of the Glasgow talks — a development that organizers welcomed, but one that does little to fundamentally alter the world’s trajectory.

In an update to previous analyses of the plans, known as “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs, officials said countries including Chad, Ghana, Uzbekistan, Iraq and Pakistan had logged updated or additional national blueprints. In total, 166 countries have submitted NDCs.

The United Nation’s analysis showed that while the additions and alterations could result in slightly lower emissions than previously expected, total global emissions are still on pace to rise by 2030 compared with 2010 levels. And the plans appear to do little to alter U.N. projections that the world is on pace to warm roughly 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared with preindustrial times.

But not everyone is ready to declare the summit a failure at its halfway mark. There have been major pledges on stopping deforestation, slashing methane emissions and transferring trillions in private and public financing away from fossil fuels and coal and toward renewable energy.


“COP26 is probably unfolding in a way that exceeds expectations compared to where we were a couple months ago, in no small part because I do think we’ve seen a few countries — a few important countries — step up,” said Manish Bapna, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “And whether your glass is half full or half empty depends a lot on your expectations of what this COP was likely to deliver.”

Bapna and others have noted that while nations were always unlikely to put the world on a 1.5 Celsius path this year alone, the world is moving in the right direction — even if it’s not fast enough. He noted that only a handful of years ago, existing policies put the world on a pathway to 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming. Recently, a U.N. analysis found current pledges would steer closer toward 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit).

As the fanfare of the first days of the much-anticipated climate summit fades, ahead lies a difficult week of less glamorous but more substantive and thorny negotiations. To find an agreement that represents progress, nations will have to work through a range of issues: from the rules governing global carbon markets; to how often countries should update their emissions-cutting plans; to the amount of funding rich nations should set aside to help vulnerable countries deal with the catastrophes caused by climate change.

Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission and a key negotiator at COP26, told The Washington Post on Thursday that he welcomed such pressure for more concrete outcomes. And especially the nudging from Thunberg and other young activists.

“I’m very grateful to that movement, and I hope they will stay critical. I hope they will push us even further,” Timmermans said. “I can understand the frustration, because from her perspective we’re not moving fast enough. But we’re moving as fast as we can, and we need to convince others to move with us.”

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Brady Dennis reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Maxine Joselow in Glasgow contributed to this report.