Thousands of school students walked out of their classrooms and onto Australian streets on Friday to kick off a global strike demanding world leaders gathering for a UN Climate Action Summit adopt urgent measures to stop an environmental catastrophe.
“Stop denying the earth is dying,” read a handmade sign, carried by one student protesting in Sydney’s city precinct, as social media mosts showed students gathering around the country including state capitals and outback towns like Alice Springs.
“We didn’t light it, but we’re trying to fight it,” read another sign in Sydney.
Similar protests, inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, are planned in some 150 countries on Friday. The aim is for students and others from around the world to speak in one voice about the impending effects of climate change on the planet.
The strike will culminate in New York when Thunberg, who has been nominated for a Nobel prize for her climate activism, will spearhead a march at the home of the United Nations headquarters.
The UN summit brings together world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels.
In Australia, climate change policy has become a political football as the coal-rich country grapples with its renewable energy targets.
Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told parliament on Thursday that students should not take part in the protest movement. “When school is sitting, students should go to school,” he said.
Danielle Porepilliasana, a high school student in Sydney’s inner west, said climate change was the biggest threat to her generation and politicians needed to wake up to the challenge.
“World leaders from everywhere are telling us that students need to be at school doing work,” said Porepilliasana, wearing anti-coal earrings.
“I’d like to see them at their parliaments doing their jobs for once.”
Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has already led to droughts and heatwaves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and floods, scientists say.
Carbon emissions climbed a record high last year, despite a warning from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that output of the gases must be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilise the climate.
Organisers said the demonstrations would take different forms around the world, but all aim to promote awareness of climate change and demand political action to curb contributing factors to climate change, namely carbon emissions.
(Reporting by Hans Lee in Sydney; writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Stephen Coates)