Our Burning Planet

Greta Thunberg at COP26

Greta Thunberg attacks CO2 offset projects as ‘Greenwash’ at COP26

Greta Thunberg attacks CO2 offset projects as ‘Greenwash’ at COP26
Swedish sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks during a press conference at the end of the march for the climate strike in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 27 September 2019. EPA-EFE/VALERIE BLUM

Greta Thunberg chose the day that finance chiefs rallied trillions of dollars to deploy in the fight against climate change to make her presence felt at COP26.

Greta Thunberg and other activists from Greenpeace and the Indigenous Environmental Network interrupted a panel on carbon offsets to protest about “greenwashing” and the dangers of relying on the credits to compensate for emissions.

Her presence drew a crush of people outside the meeting space despite social distancing rules. The Swedish environmentalist sat at the back of the room listening. Half an hour into the panel discussion, she walked out, shouting “no more greenwashing”.

Before the panel started on Wednesday she tweeted that fossil fuel companies and banks are trying to “give polluters a free pass to keep polluting.”


The fossil fuel industry & banks caused are among the biggest climate villains. Now @Shell @BP & @StanChart are here in Glasgow trying to scale up offsetting & give polluters a free pass to keep polluting. Their plan could trash the 1,5°C goal.

— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) November 3, 2021
Offsets are a way for buyers to continue polluting while essentially paying someone else to adopt climate-friendly behaviors. But no global oversight or common standards exist, and an abundance of low-quality offsets appears to have little impact on global warming. The projects also have the potential to harm local communities if they aren’t executed properly.

Today’s free-for-all market has emerged in part from the repeated failure of governments to agree on rules for a United Nations-organized trade of carbon offsets among countries. Negotiators in Glasgow will make yet another attempt at finalizing rules.

As Thunburg left, another activist took the microphone. “Carbon offsets mean climate sabotage,” said Teresa Anderson, climate policy coordinator at ActionAid International. “They aren’t just a tool to greenwash climate inaction and delay the transformation we need, they’re also going to drive devastating land grabs in the Global South.”

Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, who’s leading a task force of hundreds of large polluters and sustainability experts to scale up the voluntary carbon offset market, also attended the event. He spoke at the end of the panel discussion in defense of his work, saying offsets were part of the solution to reaching net zero emissions but that the existing market has to be improved.

While Carney spoke, Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan stood up with Anderson holding signs that together said “Your task force is a scam.”

Protests threatened to overshadow Day Three of the UN climate change summit in Glasgow that was dedicated to finance’s role in saving the planet. Carney kicked off the day by announcing that over $130 trillion on bank balance sheets would be covered by net-zero goals.

Yet outside the conference rooms where the financial elite talked up their plans, frustration grew among COP26 participants who said they’d been shut out of discussions and criticized the commitments as too little, too late.

Activists and members of non-governmental organizations, some of whom had traveled thousands of miles at their own expense to the summit, said they were being excluded from the main venue and told to dial in from their hotel rooms.

While the U.K. organizers committed to making the two-week United Nations meeting in Scotland the most inclusive to date, one advocacy group known as COP Coalition branded it “the least accessible climate summit ever.”

Others were unimpressed by the endless stream of announcements.

Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi, who chairs the so-called Least Developed Countries group, said that progress was “disappointing and in a way also frightening.”

Underscoring the divide in perceptions of success, he called for additional funds to be made available for countries suffering from climate change, echoing the dismay voiced over the past two days by numerous leaders of smaller and island states already witnessing the devastating impact of more frequent and severe storms, flooding and drought.

Organizers of the annual UN climate conferences traditionally allow NGOs and activists to observe the negotiations so they can monitor progress independently.

Yet while “thousands of observers” from environmental NGOs had been accredited, just four were allowed in the room, said Sébastien Duyck, a senior attorney for the Washington-based Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law. Duyck called it “an outrage.”

Outside the venue, delegates and observers arrived to find long queues many expected to be shorter with the departure of leaders and heads of state. Instead, the wait compounded the anger over limited access.

In a statement, the organizers said COP26 was experiencing “a very high level of attendance” and that pandemic restrictions meant entrance may be limited to those who had to be physically present. All who can participate remotely were encouraged to do so.

COP participants didn’t travel to Scotland to watch proceedings from a hotel with poor wifi while plenary seats remain empty, said Ellery Li, project advisor of China Youth Climate Action Network. “Civil society must be treated as an equal partner with equal access to the negotiations,” Li said. OBP

By Jessica Shankleman and John Ainger

(Updates with protesters in second paragraph.)
–With assistance from Ewa Krukowska, Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Karoline Kan.

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David Anthony James Starley says:

    What an irritating little cow.
    On her way to being a billionaire on the back of the trillion dollar man-made-climate industry.
    Too many high profile people and organisations making fortunes from it for it to stop any time soon.
    China, Russia and India et al are laughing their little socks of at the self-destruction of the western world!

  • Alan Paterson says:

    Concur entirely with David. It’s that smug, superior face. Can’t smack it unfortunately, too politically incorrect today. But when she gets her Nobel Prize I am returning mine in protest!

  • Lawrence Sisitka says:

    OMG – I really never thought I would see such desperately biased and simply nasty comments in this space. It it just that David and Alan cannot stand the idea that Greta, Mia, David (A), and thousands of globally rated scientists, and social and environmental justice activists around the world might actually be right? Has their prejudice unhinged them to a degree that they believe that hurling insults at an amazingly brave, and yes forthright, 16 year old, is justified? The time for wooly waffling about the climate catastrophe we are all facing, as evidenced by the IPCC’s ‘code red’ warning, is over. It is now time for straight talking so that no-one, even David and Alan, can harbour any more doubts that this is real, and it will affect everyone and everything on this planet. The best we can do is try our very best to minimise the damage, and such appalling statements have no place in any discourse. Rather our energy needs to be put where its needed; in halting the destruction of this still amazing world of ours, while we still can. Gentlemen, please at least show the courtesy to others I am sure you would wish for yourselves – even if you don’t agree with them.You should be deeply ashamed.

  • David Anthony James Starley says:

    Well said Alan, I’ll also hand mine back.

    Sorry Lawrence but we can agree to disagree, also:
    1. She’s 18, not 16
    2. She herself has admitted, in the media, that “she has no scientific knowledge, she is just an activist”
    3. I am most definitely NOT ashamed, not in the slightest.

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    The Kardashian in the activist world. There are so many activists out there that do as much if not more for this cause. Why does she get so much airspace? She is essentially a loud child.

  • Biff Trotters says:

    I side partially with Lawrence against David and Alan. I wish on this world a billion more “irritating little cows” because that is what this world needs right now. Except of course that they can’t be actual cows because livestock are a massive part of the problem.

    Lawrence, yours seems to be the more reasonable voice, but even you are saying “…might actually be right” – good God almighty, Greta is right, she has ALWAYS been right. And the other thing Lawrence, Greta is nearly 19 now. And David, if Greta becomes a billionaire it means she can fight so much harder to help save the only planet that we have to live on. And lastly, Greta is indeed irritating, because that seems to be the only way to get folks off their complacent lazy asses.

    Wake up! Your coffee is getting warm!

  • Sue Grant-Marshall says:

    I am appalled by your smug, nasty little comments David and Alan. This young woman – not child – young woman, has the courage to stand up against smug, greedy capitalists and tell them the truth. Something you two superior, smug guys would never have the guts to do. Actually…what are you doing?

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