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Impact of Celebrities on COP26 - Başak Bozoğlu

Last week, the United Nations' 26th Climate Change Conference (COP) was held in Glasgow, Scotland. In the conference, 120 countries were attended to discuss climate change and to answer how countries will fight climate change. The conference, attended by world leaders, negotiators, journalists, campaigners, activists, and business people, greatly impacted the media. The remarkable point was that celebrities and famous business people often attracted more attention in the press than politicians.

David Attenborough, who is mostly known for the documentary series 'Our Planet,' and 'David Attenborough a Life on Our Planet' and former BCC chief, attended the COP26 to raise awareness about climate change. The 95-year-old Attenborough has informed people about many issues such as global warming, deterioration of ecosystems, and reduction of biodiversity with the documentaries he has made. Attenborough has worked with all his knowledge on producing new content to inform people. In COP26, Attenborough made seven minutes speech and said that “people were the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on Earth." He also called leaders to consider the younger generation to find solutions, using media effectively for funding, creating projects that governments can use to address climate change.

Leonardo DiCaprio as a U.N. climate change representative attended the Kew Carbon Garden exhibition in COP26. As a worldwide known Hollywood star, DiCaprio uses his media power to draw the attention of his fans to the conference. The actor tweeted that “The climate crisis is here. #COP26 must be a turning point to protect people and the planet. Leaders, the world is watching and urging you to rise to this moment. There’s no time to lose. #ActNow.” An Academy Award-winning actor also made a speech for defending climate change as the most urgent threat facing enter species at the 2016 Oscars. Thus, The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation worked on public campaigns and found funding through media attention to protect diversity and ocean and forest life since 1998. The foundation's aim is to support projects all around the world to restore balance to the ecosystem, protect wildlife and climate resiliency. Foundation, which has funded over 200 projects and supported 132 organizations, continues its activities in 50 countries.

Furthermore, Stella McCartney, who is a world-known fashion designer, joined COP26. McCartney's company, a brand value of more than 250 million dollars per year, is one of the first fashion giants to implement sustainability in the fashion industry. The most crucial move of the brand is to remove all animal-based resources such as leather and fur from its collections. Being aware of the fashion industry's impact on the environment and climate change and trying to act for the industry's transformation, McCartney held the 'Future of Fashion: Stella McCartney' exhibition at COP26 as part of the Prince Charles Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI). McCartney said, “I want to show my industry that you can have a business model working in a cleaner, more sustainable way. You don't have to kill and don't have to cut down rainforests, and you can have a sexy, well-designed, lasting, beautiful bag. I'm here to show that you can still make money." McCartney is a successful example to show how one person impacts the massive industry with her actions and voice.

During the conferences, world-renowned and productive people took part in various events, but these celebrities were not talked about as much as a single name; Greta Thunberg. Thunberg is a young Swedish activist who first started protests on climate change-related issues in August 2018. Thunberg, who first caught media attention with her "School strike for climate," has been seen as a climate activist ever since. The aim of her strike in 2018 was for the Swedish government to reduce carbon emissions by the Paris Agreement, so Thunberg decided not to go to school until the Swedish general election. More than 20,000 students participated in the strike in 270 cities. After her recognition with the increasing number of followers on social media, Thunberg participated in the climate protests in Europe. Then, Thunberg became a worldwide known public figure with her speech at the plenary session at the COP24 conference held on 12 December 2018. Greta Thunberg’s most significant breakout happened at the U.N. Climate Summit in front of the world leaders angrily by saying, ‘how dare you, you stole my childhood.' Thunberg, who turned from a media figure to a climate activist at 15, has 13.5 million followers on her social media account today. Over the years, Thunberg has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

So, is Greta a climate activist or just a public figure? Seeing the COP26 as a colossal failure, Greta said, "What more does it take for world leaders to wake up?" again with her aggressive statement. She described the U.N. climate change summit as a "two-week-long celebration of business." Greta said that “net-zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah. Net-zero. Blah, blah, blah. Climate-neutral. Blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have led to no action.” Greta argues that world leaders participate in a public relations event with their beautiful but non-sense speeches to make promises and announce goals about climate. However, one of the research demonstrates that there has been no research to show how Greta Thunberg impacts climate activism in motivating collective action on climate change. Until now, Greta does not talk about any constructive solution and what needs to be done, she only says we are the solution to the issue, but she does not produce or attend any solution or project. Greta's aggressive actions only depend on her speech in front of public speeches, but she avoided getting into the detail of what action should be taken, saying, "it is nothing to do with me." Therefore, Greta has nothing to say about solutions for climate actions while she encourages people to organize protests.

With the power of the media, every person can become a public figure in today’s world. Greta initially gained a lot of attention but failed to turn it into an active movement. Aggressively attacking world leaders on climate issues that the world needs to find a solution for, such as climate change, is not a solution but creates polarization between the younger generation and the rest of society. If Greta had used the popularity, she gained at a young age and her power to speak in the United Nations to support the projects produced, fundraising, and support the developments in the field of education. Instead of all of her laughing and sarcastic speech in COP26, she can attend and become a part of a real solution to climate change. Then, she could have turned into a young woman who deserved to be nominated for the Nobel Prize.


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