‘It’s our time to rise up’: youth climate strikes held in 100 countries | Environment

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Tens of thousands of children and young people in more than 100 countries have gone on strike to challenge politicians to take decisive action on climate change.

From small actions, like that of students who went on strike for the first time across India, to large demonstrations in the UK, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Sweden and Australia, the strike for climate action spread across more than 2,000 events.

The co-ordinated strikes were organised via social media by volunteers in the countries under the banner of Fridays for Future.

In India, more than 200 children walked out of classes in Delhi to protest against inaction on tackling climate change, and similar protests took place on a smaller scale in 30 towns and cities. Vidit Baya, 17, who is in his last year at MDS public school in Udaipur, said: “In India no one talks about climate change. You don’t see it on the news, or in the papers or hear about it from government.

“This was our first strike as a nation and there were young people taking strike action in many cities. It is a fledgling movement but we are very happy with our action today, we are trying to get people to be more aware of climate change and the need to tackle it.”

Political leaders in some countries criticised the strikes. In Australia, the education minister, Dan Tehan, said “students leaving school during school hours to protest is not something that we should encourage”. His counterpart in the UK, Damian Hinds, claimed the disruption increased teachers’ workloads and wasted lesson time.

But young people brushed off the criticism. An estimated 30,000 school and university students, parents, staff and activists gathered in Sydney to march from Town Hall Square to Hyde Park to demand action on climate change.

Xander De Vries, 20, from the University of New South Wales, told Australian Associated Press: “It’s our time to rise up, we don’t have a lot of time left, it’s us who have to make a change so I thought it would be important to be here and show support to our generation.”

Jean Hinchcliffe, 14, striking in Sydney, said on the Today programme: “I have been really frustrated and really angry about the fact I don’t have a voice in politics and I don’t have a voice in the climate conversation when my politicians are pretty much refusing to do anything … So I decided to strike and … suddenly us kids are being listened to and that’s why we continue to strike and feel it’s so important.”

Some of the 30,000 protesters in Sydney.



Some of the 30,000 protesters in Sydney. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

The global day of action has been inspired by the teenager Greta Thunberg, who protests every Friday outside Sweden’s parliament to urge leaders to tackle climate change.

‘Never too small to make a difference’

Thunberg (16) began a solo climate protest by striking from school in Sweden in August 2018. She has since been joined by tens of thousands of school and university students in Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United States, Japan and more than a dozen other countries.

‘Irresponsible children’

Speaking at the United Nations climate conference in December 2018, she berated world leaders for behaving like irresponsible children. And in January 2019 she rounded on the global business elite in Davos: “Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

Inspiration

Veteran climate campaigners are astonished by what has been achieved in such a short time. Thunberg has described the rapid spread of school strikes for climate around the world as amazing. “It proves you are never too small to make a difference,” she said. Her protests were inspired by US students who staged walk-outs to demand better gun controls in the wake of multiple school shootings.

Family

Her mother, Malena Ernman, has given up her international career as an opera singer because of the climate effects of aviation. Her father is actor Svante Thunber. Greta has Asperger’s syndrome, which in the past has affected her health, he says. She sees her condition not as a disability but as a gift which has helped open her eyes to the climate crisis.


Photograph: Michael Campanella/CampanellaFoto

In the UK, where an estimated 10,000 young people gathered in Parliament Square, Whitehall and the Mall, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, broke ranks with Hinds and praised the action in a video message with other Conservative MPs.

“Collective action of the kind you’re championing can make a difference, and a profound one,” Gove said. “Together we can beat climate change.

“It will require us to change the way in which our energy is generated, change the way in which our homes are built, change the way in which our land is managed and farming operates,” he said. “But that change is absolutely necessary.”

Students in Parliament Square, London.



Students in Parliament Square, London. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

In Tokyo, young people marched through the city’s Shibuya scramble crossing as part of the climate strike. About 130 people – including school and university students and other supporters – joined in the march, which started at the United Nations University and wound its way through the streets of the capital, including the busy Omotesando shopping street.

One of the organisers, Ten Maekawa, 20, led the crowd in chants of: “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!”

Protesters at the United Nations University in Tokyo.



Protesters at the United Nations University in Tokyo. Photograph: Damon Coulter/Barcroft Images

Maekawa told the Guardian afterwards that he was happy with the turnout, as numbers had increased since the last time they held a similar march.

He explained why he believed it was important for youth to mobilise on the issue: “In 2030, the earth will be in danger because of climate change. They’re responsible for the future, so it’s very important for the young generation to speak up about climate change.”





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