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Keeping Hope Alive in Glasgow

Over the past few decades, Sarah, 50, a nurse from Birmingham, England, has grown up alongside the climate justice movement. “I’ve been fighting for this since I was about 15,” she said at a protest outside the U.N.’s global climate summit, COP26. “And for 30 years, it felt on the periphery. Now it’s all front and center.”

An estimated 25,000 people marched across Glasgow today in the largest protest in the city since the conference started. The protest was led by the international climate movement Fridays for Future, drawing a crowd of youth, Indigenous activists and veteran environmentalists like Sarah, who attended with her 19-year-old daughter.

Seeing the crowd made Sarah “really hopeful,” even as activists speaking onstage at the protest demanded more from world leaders. Greta Thunberg, whose 2018 climate strike inspired Fridays for Future, described the climate talks in Glasgow as “a failure,” adding, “We cannot solve a crisis by the same methods that got us into it in the first place.”

This week, governments and corporations have made pledges to reduce emissions, move away from coal, eliminate deforestation and deliver money to help poor countries adapt. Activists at the protest today dismissed the commitments as part of a “two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah,” Greta said. Vanessa Nakate, a 24-year-old Ugandan activist, told the protesters, “We need to continue holding leaders accountable for their actions.”

“The kids have every reason to be frustrated,” John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy on climate change, said at the New York Times Climate Hub after the protest. “We will get to a low-carbon economy — we will get there. The only issue is, will we get there in time?”

Having watched COPs for decades, Sarah said she had to hope change would come out of this “much better attended and much better publicized” conference. Although in previous COPs, countries “might have sent junior members of staff and delegates,” she said she was grateful that Biden, Boris Johnson and European heads of state had attended. “That wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.”

Clare Toeniskoetter, our producer, explains the significance of their attendance. “This is the one moment where the Davids and Goliaths are together, face to face, at the same table,” Clare said. “I think we represented that in the episode, hearing from Biden and Boris, but also the leaders of Fiji and Barbados.”

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