How it all unfolded: activist-led projections on the COP26 venue

12 November 2021 

Neal Huddon-Cossar was prepared for anything to happen on Tuesday night. 

A campaigner with the Gasativist Collective, his organisation joined forces with Shale Must Fall and Climate Camp Scotland to project climate crisis-related warnings and demands onto the venue hosting the soon-to-be-concluded COP26 climate negotiations. 

Along with ten other activists, they had scouted the area where they wanted to set up the projector days beforehand. When the evening for the action arrived, it took a couple of them to carry and set up the projector. 

They told the police it was an art installation for the conference in order to draw attention to the dangers of methane leaks, and they were allowed to proceed. 

So far, so good. 

About ten minutes into projection things like “ban fracking now” and “net zero is not zero”, the group noticed another projection to start to take shape. 

They knew the Scottish Event Campus’ armadillo building that was hosting the conference was already being used as a projection surface and made sure they arrived after its usual operating time to avoid any crossover. 

“To our surprise, all of the sudden we saw their projection juxtaposed on ours,” Neal recalled.

The counter-projections started off with colourful and eye-catching patterns that served as a backdrop to the campaign slogans, and at first everyone thought it was quite comical. 

“The projection background really helped to make our projection seem more dramatic and attractive from an aesthetic point of view,” Neal said. 

Then the interaction got more verbal. 

The second projection started beaming the words “go away” in large red letters and kept the message there for about twenty to thirty minutes, according to Neal. 

At a certain point, the activists decided to play along.

“We started communicating with them via our own beamer. We really liked the rainbow background they had at one point, so we asked them: ‘put back the rainbow,’” Neal told The Green News. 

The campaigners also sent a second message telling the other operators that they would go away once methane was kept in the ground. 

By the end, Neal says the operators of the other projector came out to speak to the activists and congratulated them. 

According to the COP26 media team, a third party supplier is responsible for delivering projections at the site and they have been speaking to them about the exchange since it happened.

“This response was not authorised by COP26,” they added. 

The next day, the night’s events appeared in media outlets the worldover and the rainbow background image of the armadillo saying “cut methane now” even made it to the landing page of The Guardian. 

Campaigners weren’t expecting that the action would get as much media attention as it did, but they’ve decided to run with it “because it’s given us a platform to talk about this very important issue,” according to Neal. 

Methane, which leaks throughout the gas production process, is a potent greenhouse gas that has a much higher, immediate warming effect than carbon dioxide. 

In their most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stressed that strong, rapid and sustained reductions were needed of the greenhouse gas in order to limit further warming. 

While the action itself was one that became a “surreal and comical episode”, it’s also quite concerning to Neal. 

“It’s very indicative of the COP26 attempts to restrict and shut down civil society spaces in these past two weeks. 

It’s very evident to us that those with immense power and money are given a louder voice at these climate talks and when climate activists are perceived to threaten the interests of powerful actors, the reaction has been to try and silence us or shut down any protest actions taking place,” Neal said. 

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported that incidents of police intimidation, harassment and aggression towards activists through the conference have had a chilling effect on protest. 

Police Scotland said in the piece that officers have “enjoyed very positive engagement” with the vast majority of people and that they helped ensure that two huge marches through the city were completed successfully. 

The exact conclusion of COP26 was yet to be known at the time of publication, but activists have continuously expressed their disappointment in the draft documents that have been produced so far. 

And while activists like Neal and members of Shale Must Fall, Climate Camp Scotland and the Gastivist collective garnered worldwide attention with their action this week, their main concern still stands: that the root cause of emissions is failing to be addressed here in Glasgow when they need to plummet now and well into the future. 

About the Author

Kayle Crosson