With COP26 seeing numerous protests by climate activists, most notably led by Greta Thunberg, Isabel Schatzschneider writes that the protests of the young have the potential to make waves long after discussions in Glasgow come to an end.

Only a few days before the world leaders gathered at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the UN emissions gap report revealed a bleak prediction for the future of the planet: the current government pledges are nowhere near enough to keep the 1.5°C global warming threshold within sight. To remain under the limit, the plans would need to be seven times more ambitious.

Prior to COP26, around 50 countries plus the EU had agreed to meet a net zero target by the middle of this century. Arguably the conference is the last chance for politicians to step up their game and to commit to emissions targets that could still prevent the most severe impacts of climate change.

So far, these pledges have been rather disappointing.

A week ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would reach net zero emissions by 2070. With a population of over 1.3 billion people, India is the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, the planet's largest emitter, and the United States.

Considering the recent findings of reaching a tipping point much sooner than previously thought, we simply don't have any time to waste. Yet the question remains whether the political elite will take the necessary steps to avoid an irreversible environmental catastrophe.

Last week, an open letter written by a group of youth climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, went viral with over one million signatures, calling out the world leaders on their blatant hypocrisy and empty promises at COP26.

On Friday, the young climateers took over the streets of Glasgow as a part of the "Fridays for Future" strike. The movement initially started in 2018 when the then 15-year-old Thunberg campaigned outside the Swedish parliament every school day, demanding urgent action on the climate crisis. Amidst the apathy among the general public on how to tackle climate change, "Fridays for Future" could tilt the scale in favour of the young activists, raising the stakes of the COP26 negotiations.

The power of collective action should never be underestimated.

Roughly 25,000 activists took part in Friday's protest, making it the largest demonstration so far outside the climate conference. With the first week of COP26 behind us, millions of people have joined around 200 demonstrations across the world. A recent study of German students found that priming for "Fridays for Future" and protest participation crucially change perceived political responsiveness and satisfaction with democracy. Protest participation appears to have a great influence on how the political attitudes of the youth are shaped.

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During a protest in Hamburg, while throwing shade on politicians' inaction, Thunberg declared: "We are striking because we have done our homework, and they have not." It is not hard to see the appeal of a movement which encourages young people to take matters into their own hands.

As the recent Bundestag elections have shown, the German youth played an important role in shifting the historic election outcome, culminating in the best national election result ever by the German Greens. After the success of the "Fridays for Future" demonstrations, the three parties hoping to form Germany's next government are all backing lowering the voting age to 16.

A poll carried out by the German environment association NABU found that 59 per cent of voters over 65 said they would not be considering younger voters' climate protection interests when they cast their ballots.

In light of these findings, it comes as no surprise that younger generations are not willing to gamble their future, especially given some the rhetoric that has emerged from the conference.

At COP26, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres made a point which certainly resonates with a German audience: "Recent climate action announcements might give the impression that we are on track to turn things around. This is an illusion. Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink."

The soon-to-be former German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been criticised for the country's over-reliance on fossil fuels – Greenpeace calling Germany's automotive sector "an Achilles heel" for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.

In Germany, the transport sector is the only industry that has not achieved any greenhouse-gas reductions since the 90s. As a renewable alternative to fossil fuels, biofuels could assist the transition away from fossil fuels. Yet much more research needs to be put into examining initiatives that have proven to provide alternatives to fossil fuels, including biofuels. An example worth scrutinising comes from Southeast Asia where nationally mandated Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme is linked to reduced deforestation rates for four consecutive years.

This raises a question on why we are not investing in research on schemes like the MSPO which could – along with industry net zero commitments – help us to solve our fossil fuel addiction.

According to the UNEP production gap report, global fossil fuel production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C. In essence, fossil fuels will be the make-or-break dilemma in the climate battle. If we don't act now, we will soon run out of time to render our industries more sustainable. While young people are increasingly the ones leading the climate revolution, they should not bear the burden alone.

Friday's climate strike was in many ways a wake-up call for the world leaders at COP26. The young climateers captured the attention of international media and Thunberg declared that so far, the UN climate conference has been a failure. She also described COP26 as a "fancy PR event" and a "greenwash festival", accusing the political elites of "actively creating loopholes" to benefit themselves.

Young people are fed up – and political point scoring won't be enough to silence them. What they need are actions.

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