What’s at stake at COP26 as climate activists decry ’empty promises’

Negotiators from around the world are meeting in Glasgow for a second week for the United Nations summit aimed at getting new commitments and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Pressure from climate activists has been building on the streets this weekend, with demands for meaningful change beyond the rhetoric of these gatherings. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have reported, negotiators from around the world are meeting in Glasgow for a second week, all part of the U.N. summit aimed at getting new commitments and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Pressure has been building on the streets this weekend. And, today, there was a call for meaningful change beyond the rhetoric of these gatherings.

    William Brangham is there for us all week. And he joins me now.

    So, hello, William.

    We know you just arrived in Glasgow yesterday. Tell us, in the time you have been there, what are you seeing? What are you hearing?

  • William Brangham:

    Well, Judy, as you mentioned, we landed here, and there were enormous protests over the weekend. They thought almost 100,000 people on the streets on Saturday.

    Here, inside the conference hall where I'm standing now, it's late at night. Most people have already left. But, here, it's been this combination of high-end diplomatic meetings and a sort of trade show, conference feel to everything.

    The whole goal, as we have discussed, is about getting world leaders to commit to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, so that the planet doesn't warm to a dangerous degree. Complicating all of that is a Washington Post investigation that dropped this morning that indicated that many nations around the world have been grossly overstating how much emissions reductions they have been doing.

    They have been using all sorts of complicated data, and The Washington Post breaks all that down. And so the issue is, if this whole conference is about getting people to put down very specifically how much they will reduce their emissions, if, as The Post reports, that a lot of this is based on dubious data, that really complicates matters here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, William, when it comes to galvanizing nations, we know former President Obama was there, spoke to the conference today, urging countries to step up.

    Tell us, how was he, how was his message received?

  • William Brangham:

    That's right.

    The former president's speech, initially, he got a something of a standing ovation here in the hall. And he got forward and he said, there have been real roadblocks to progress. He acknowledged that there is still an enormous amount to do. But he said this COP has already had some real substantial progress.

    That said, we talked to some activists who came into the conference hall today who argued, and specifically mentioned President Obama, that he and other Western leaders are paying lip service to action, instead of really taking concrete steps.

    I talked with one young activist from South Africa. Her name is Raeesah Noor-Mahomed. Here's what she had to say.

  • Raeesah Noor-Mahomed, Climate Activist:

    : We're in the climate crisis right now, we're in the position where and because of empty promises, because they prioritized themselves and their economies over the planet and the people. They have always been putting profit over people. And why would this be any different?

  • William Brangham:

    The former president took on these criticisms head on. He acknowledged that there had been, as he called them, imperfect compromises, and that all the past victories were not full victories.

    But, that said, he said to these activists very directly: I want you to stay angry. I want you to stay frustrated. But turn those emotions into action. Keep pushing us, world, leaders to do better.

    And, so far, they seem to be heating as wishes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting that the former president is engaged in this.

    And, William, you're going to be there for the rest of the week and will be reporting for us. Thank you very much.

  • William Brangham:

    You're welcome, Judy.

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