Political parties, green campaigners, faith groups, trade unionists, students and an array of pantomime animals braved the biting wind and rain in Edinburgh yesterday to demand global action to cut the pollution that is causing climate chaos.
Over 5,000 colourfully dressed protestors from across Scotland marched through the city from the Meadows to Princes Street Gardens in the bitter cold to a rally demanding “climate justice” from world leaders gathering in Paris on Monday.
The march was Scotland’s contribution to more than 2,300 actions around the world designed to put pressure on negotiators at the United Nations climate summit. Up to 200 countries will be deciding over the next two weeks what they must do to prevent global warming causing more floods, droughts, heatwaves and other disasters.
The march was organised by the umbrella group, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, which urged leaders not to let the world down, as they did in Copenhagen in 2009. “We will be watching you,” the coalition’s chair, Tom Ballantine told the rally.
“We demand action because science and honesty require it,” he declared. “We demand action because justice requires it for our children and generations to come” and for “fairness for the poorest people in the most fragile places”.
One multi-coloured banner carried through Edinburgh put it another way. “All I want for Christmas is a legally-binding commitment to global emissions reductions,” it said.
Ballantine was supported by the Scottish Government, the Labour Party, the Scottish Greens, the Liberal Democrats and a host of other groups. Scotland’s environment minister, Dr Aileen McLeod, promised protestors that she would take a strong message from the march to Paris.
“Scotland wants and expects an ambitious and fair climate treaty to be agreed,” she said. “The stakes really could not be higher and it is fair to say that our future and that of generations to come, depends on a successful outcome.”
Opposition parties, however, criticised the Scottish Government for missing its first four annual targets to cut climate pollution. The Scottish Green MSP, Patrick Harvie stressed that most fossil fuels had to stay in the ground to avoid a climate catastrophe.
Labour’s environmental justice spokeswoman, Sarah Boyack, promised to deliver a new “warm homes” law. It would change planning and building regulations to create jobs, tackle fuel poverty and cut energy waste, she said.
A lonely Conservative, the Lothian MSP Cameron Buchanan, was shouted down by the crowd when he said that nuclear power was needed to combat climate change. The rally’s compere, broadcaster, comedian and new Sunday Herald columnist Hardeep Singh Kohli, was forced to intervene to make a plea for free speech.
The turnout exceeded the expectations of organisers, and included a wide cross section of Scottish society. The Church of Scotland marched alongside humanists, while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds keen to protect nature mingled with the Socialist Workers Party demanding “system change not climate change”.
Despite the terrible weather, there was fancy dress, music and good humour. As well as a panda, a polar bear, a gorilla and a “fossil fuel dinosaur”, there was a pipe band, some loud drummers and – encouraged by Singh Kohli – a lot of jumping and hugging.
And of course there were hundreds of banners. “Can oui fix it? Yes we can!” said one. “What if it’s all a hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” asked another.