16-Year-Old Dubs COP26 A 'Hellscape' – But Not For The Reasons You Might Think

Climate justice activist Alexandria Villasenor tore into the UN summit for details most people have probably missed.
Boris Johnson speaking at COP26 in Glasgow
Boris Johnson speaking at COP26 in Glasgow
JEFF J MITCHELL via Getty Images

Alexandria Villasenor pulled apart Glasgow’s COP26, not for its climate pledges, but for being an “exclusionary dystopian hellscape of a conference”.

On Twitter, the 16-year-old American climate justice activist, founder of the youth-led climate education organisation Earth Uprising, explained why the pivotal talks led by the UK have already missed the mark – and it only started four days ago.

The landmark discussions have been hailed as a last-gasp chance to lessen the damage caused by climate change – but according to Villasenor, who is at COP26, there are some fundamental problems with the event itself.

‘Chaos’ just entering the venue

Referring to the social media uproar surrounding the extensive queues attendees have to wait in just to enter the conference, Villasenor said: “I’ve spent four hours in line for the past two days.”

She added: “It’s chaos and a failure on the part of the organisers.”

There is just one entrance for 20,000 attendees meaning there is a huge build-up outside the Glasgow venue.

According to some attendees, people were then stopped being allowed in altogether when the event was at mass capacity.

Villasenor tweeted: “The UK and UNFCCC have accredited more people than they’ll allow into the venue. Can’t get in for you event or meeting after coming all this way? So sad, too bad.”

Huge queues to get into the Scottish venue
Huge queues to get into the Scottish venue
OLI SCARFF via Getty Images

It gets ‘even weirder’ inside

Villasenor claimed that “civil society is literally locked out negotiation spaces with no video link or any other way to effectively observe at all”.

As climate justice campaigner Asad Rehman tweeted: “Does the UK even care we are here at #COP26?”

Villasenor said attendees could only watch what happens in the conference by logging into their laptops which seems to defeat the point of attending the landmark event in person.

Exclusionary problems

Israeli energy minister Karine Elharrar was unable to enter the conference on its first day because there was no wheelchair access to the venue.

While this issue was rectified the following day – and prime minister Boris Johnson apologised to her in person – Villasenor pointed out there are other issues which have triggered accusations of ableism towards the event.

She noted there does not appear to be any sign language interpreters, nor wheelchair access.

Villasenor also repeated claims that “youth activists of colour are being profiled and removed from the venue” and that climate activists of colour are being “cropped” out of photographs of the event.

Fossil fuel reps are abound at the summit

Fossil fuel representatives are at the event, with companies such as Chevron, Shell and BP reportedly have a delegation of more than 100 strong at the climate conference.

AFP news agency’s Patrick Galey tweeted: “By my count there’s a couple dozen people here directly on behalf of fossil fuel companies. But there are likely hundreds of others operating as observers for BINGOs (big international non-governmental organisations).”

Galey also pointed out that despite Shell’s CEO claiming the company was not going to COP26, this is not true – multiple representatives have attended the event.

Billionaires take to the stage

Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, founder of Amazon and the space exploration company Blue Origin, stunned the public when he was given a platform to campaign for action against climate change this week.

He went into space for just a singular 10-minute exploration in July, a move criticised for not exactly being environmentally-conscious, while Amazon is notorious for its high CO2 emissions.

Villasenor tweeted: “And this billionaire had to go to space to figure out what billions of people in the most affected areas of the planet, have been yelling at the top of their lungs about for a long time now.”

Why does it matter?

The activist tweeted that such an environment “directly informs the decision making process that is placed in it”.

She continued: “The negotiating space that we create, as a planet, is one of the most important aspects of these talks and can ultimately set it up for failure or success.”

The UN Climate Change has already apologised

Villasenor shared an email which appeared to have come from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) directly, titled: “Seeking your support and understanding”.

It explains that the “exceptional and unprecedented logistical circumstances” of the pandemic had essentially made it increasingly difficult to organise – while there’s been “unprecedented interest in this conference”.

Yet, as Villasenor pointed out, more staff could have been hired and more queues built to accommodate the growing crowds.

It’s also worth noting the COP26 team had an additional year to plan the event after the 2020 event was postponed due to the Covid pandemic.