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Cop26 diaries: Doorstepping Rishi Sunak and Squid Game demos

Our diarist on inspiring young people and holding leaders to account.

By Fatima Ibrahim

There’s a 24/7 energy in Glasgow right now. It’s the kind of environment where you go home after midnight and then have a meeting at 7am the next day. I hit the ground running on Monday with a bunch of meetings followed by media interviews about world leaders’ speeches.

We kicked off the climate conference with an outdoor Squid Game-themed demonstration on Tuesday. There were people dressed as guards from the Netflix show and world leaders and, with banners reading “World leaders: Stop playing climate games”. The parallels are clear: Squid Game depicts a powerful minority playing dangerous games with the lives of ordinary people.

The group I’m part of, Green New Deal Rising, has people inside the conference building as well as at a warehouse in Glasgow, where they’re making banners, placards and protest art. We’ve brought 100 young people to Glasgow to get involved with global environmental movements and help us hold world leaders accountable.

On Wednesday, some young activists and I were waiting for an action that was about to go ahead. We were camped outside the plenary hall, unsure whether observers were being allowed in. Suddenly, we spotted Rishi Sunak walking down the corridor surrounded by his entourage, and decided to doorstep him.

I filmed as another activist followed him and asked why he was giving tax breaks to fossil fuel companies. I was buzzing with adrenaline. He mumbled something inaudible and noncomittal that sounded like: “We’re not, we’ve actually stopped with the…”

Then he walked away into a cordoned area where he started posing for photos holding a green briefcase. It was very strange.

We went and sat in the conference, but Rishi’s team were unhappy about us being there and demanded that we were removed before he spoke. UN security didn’t want to remove us because we hadn’t broken any rules, but in the end we were asked to step outside. Rishi is someone you rarely see out in public so it was great to have an opportunity to ask an off-the-cuff question.

Glasgow is the first time I’ve met colleagues from around the world since lockdown. For me that’s one of the important things about the talks – they’re an opportunity to strengthen our movements and inspire young activists by getting to meet face-to-face.

With hindsight I’d say that Paris was better organised. I don’t remember having the same issues with access. There have been cases where observers have been locked out of key rooms during talks. The security queues have been slow and accommodation in the city is pricey: I’ve seen Airbnbs charging £20k for two weeks.

I feel that Glasgow is about delivering things that were agreed in Paris. Some activist groups aren’t so focussed on Cop26; they recognise that there’s a limit to what it will achieve. Instead we’re thinking about pragmatic longer-term national goals and the Green New Deal, a systemic response to the climate issue. We also need to continue putting pressure on politicians to stick to their pledges, which is what we’ve been doing for the years leading up to the talks.

In practise that can involve following them around and making their lives a bit difficult.

Fatima Ibrahim is co-director of Green New Deal Rising

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Cop26 diaries are a series of personal insights from people attending the Cop negotiations in Glasgow.

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