GLASGOW, Scotland — Climate activist Greta Thunberg stormed out of an event at the U.N. Climate Change Conference on Wednesday afternoon, where officials and business leaders were discussing how to ensure that markets for trading carbon offsets actually achieve the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Swedish teenager, who was in the audience at a panel discussion, left the venue saying, “Thanks for greenwashing,” after a moderator thanked her for attending the session.
When Thunberg said “greenwashing,” she was using an environmentalists’ term for an organization’s false portrayal of itself as environmentally friendly. Some activists contend that corporations and governments participating in the climate summit, also known as COP26, are guilty of just that, by paying lip service to combating climate change while continuing to use the fossil fuels that cause global warming.
The panel discussion was called “High Integrity in the Voluntary Carbon Market,” with speakers including Mark Carney, vice chairman and head of impact investing at Brookfield Asset Management and a former governor of the Bank of England. Carbon offsets are credits for actions such as planting trees that are bought by polluters to compensate for emitting the gases that cause global warming, such as carbon dioxide.
Thunberg may have intended to take part in a protest of the event planned by Indigenous activists. However, the demonstration was foiled after many of the activists remained stuck outside the venue.
“Carbon offsetting violates Mother Earth and Father Sky and perpetuates the theft of Indigenous Peoples’ land and territories,” said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, in a statement before the planned protest. “Indigenous Peoples have been protecting lands and forests for thousands of years, but carbon offsets are tearing us apart.”
Earlier on Wednesday, hundreds of protesters from the group Extinction Rebellion gathered in the center of Glasgow, just under 2 miles from the official conference venue, to show their concern over what one protester described as “false solutions” to the climate crisis.
The crowd included one activist dressed as a tree who spoke angrily about deforestation, while another was in costume as a green blob — he said the outfit was the embodiment of greenwashing — and said, “Companies say a lot of nice things, but then they don’t do any of them.”
“I came out here today because I’m sick of greenwashing and I’m sick of billionaire bullshit,” said Ruth Fleming of Greenock, Scotland. “Quite frankly, I’m sick of Jeff Bezos and other billionaires pretending that they care about the environment while they're flying on their private jets and spaceships and stuff like that.”
Bezos, the founder of Amazon, was accused of hypocrisy by some commentators on Tuesday after he announced he would spend $2 billion on environmental protection. He flew to Glasgow on a private jet, and also recently flew into the upper atmosphere to promote his Blue Origin spaceflight company.
Sarah Orsted, from Denmark, came to protest what she sees as the gap between her own government’s words and its policies. “Denmark talks so much about goals and ambitions and so little about actual actions,” she said.
The protests came on the day dubbed as “Finance Day” at COP26, which saw over 450 financial institutions, representing assets of more than $130 trillion, across 45 countries pledge to invest in green energy and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Cover thumbnail photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images