Fake reveals, real lessons: How Glasgow's climate activists pranked COP26 and why it matters

Glasgow, UK - There have been plenty of protests at the COP26 summit, but two groups in Glasgow put a genius twist on climate activism with a hilarious prank that exposed some serious flaws at the heart of the summit.

Glasgow Calls Out Polluters protesters accuse the COP26 climate conference of greenwashing.
Glasgow Calls Out Polluters protesters accuse the COP26 climate conference of greenwashing.  © @againstthegrainuk

Activists from Glasgow Calls Out Polluters and The Yes Men made waves after they infiltrated COP26 by impersonating a luxury aircraft company – and managed to get it signed up to two "science based" climate initiatives!

The activists first issued a press release claiming they snuck into COP26 with the "fake" company, Yasava, and bragged about how smoothly they duped COP26 organizers into accepting them in the club of companies that signed up to net zero targets. Apparently, absurd promotional soundbites like "An aircraft does not simply accommodate you: you wear it" didn't put off the organizers at all.

Then came the even bigger reveal: Yasava is an honest-to-god real company that the groups piggybacked on just to get their point across! And it turns out the pranksters didn't even need any "skill at all to demonstrate the absurdity of the whole 'net zero' concept," as Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men told TAG24.

Bichlbaum pointed out that Yasava, a bespoke private jet company, markets "sub-zero" emission, customized planes – generally speaking not the kind of products that fit well with a "science based" climate initiative.

The point, as the activist group Glasgow Calls Out Polluters (GCOP) explained to TAG24, was that this kind of slip up is just the tip of the greenwashing iceberg. Companies are using the conference to boast about plans to reach net zero emissions while continuing business practices that cause CO2 emissions.

They see their stunt as painful proof of how much net zero is just paying lip service, and is getting in the way of real action.

Net zero greenwashing

GCOP protesters give the UK Polluter Award to energy firm Drax as part of their COP26 demonstrations.
GCOP protesters give the UK Polluter Award to energy firm Drax as part of their COP26 demonstrations.  © @againstthegrainuk

Cathel Hutchison of GCOP told TAG24 that their focus at the COP26 climate summit has been the huge amount of companies which "operate within the fossil fuel ecosystem."

In fact, he doesn't think the prank managed to "quite reach [Yasava's] level of absurdity" and deceit – but that just makes his gripe with the net zero concept all the more vivid.

"Net-zero started from an accounting perspective, where basically numbers can moved around in a way that doesn't really correspond to the way things work in the real world," he said.

Even though oil and gas companies were dropped as COP26 sponsors, Hutchison noted that because of direct connections to other sectors, "fossil fuel companies are still massive players," which is underscored by the massive presence of over 500 fossil fuel lobbyists.

Ultimately, that reveals the biggest problem: "It's not like I don't see net zero leading to reductions in emissions, like if you're switching from a diesel-powered fleet to electric vehicles. But what matters is getting emissions down everywhere, because that's what matters with CO2 emissions."

Hutchison thinks a successful COP26 would require "broadening the scope of solutions" available for fighting the climate crisis, and switching up the current "winners and losers" so that the people losing their lives and livelihoods are replaced by companies that can afford to take a profit loss.

COP26 is wrapping up, so protests are expected to keep on the pressure outside the SEC campus in Glasgow to get leaders to finally take strong climate action.

Cover photo: @againstthegrainuk

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