NEW YORK CITY — Hundreds of thousands of New York’s youth filled the streets of Manhattan on Friday afternoon, joining millions of people in global protests against climate change inaction.
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who was the last speaker for the 250,000-strong climate strike in New York, said people from over 150 countries in seven continents - including Antarctica - participated.
“This is an emergency. Our house is on fire. And it is not just the young people’s house. We all live here. It affects all of us. And we will not just stand aside and watch,” the 16-year-old told the crowd of young Americans.
Thunberg, who gained popularity for her lone protest outside the Swedish parliament last year, said the youth are skipping school or work because of what’s at stake when it comes to climate change.
“Why should we study for a future that is being taken away from us? That is being stolen for profit?” she said. “Some people say we should study to become climate scientists or politicians so in the future we can solve the climate crisis but by then it would be too late. We need to do this now.”
New generation of activists
Thunberg has become an inspiration for a new generation of climate activists. Throughout the strike, young girls could be heard chanting Thunberg’s first name. Parents also brought young children who readily held up placards for the various causes they believed in.
Zero Hour officer Anaiah Thomas, 17, said they are displeased with the US government and its inaction.
“We want our government, legislators listen to us and actually take physical action against the crisis,” she said. “It’s about that people are being affected by this. People in the frontlines.”
Thomas, who hails from Brooklyn, said Americans also suffer because of climate change - through devastating typhoons, widespread forest fires and water scarcity.
Also joining New York locals at the march from Foley Square to Battery Park were international environmental groups that will participate or monitor the upcoming United Nations climate summits in the city.
Former climate negotiator Yeb Saño, who is now executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, joined the climate strike in New York after participating in the Peoples' Summit on Climate, Rights and Human Survival.
Asked how he would assess the Philippine government’s role in the climate change discourse, he said: “Ang katotohanan nangangamba tayo na nailalagay sa backseat ang issue ng climate change sa Pilipinas (The truth is, we are worried that the issue of climate change in the Philippines is taking a back seat).”
“Wala tayong negosyador ngayon na umuupo sa negotiating table to stand up for climate justice, to stand up for the rights of Filipinos (We don’t even have a negotiator who participates in the negotiating table to stand up for climate justice, to stand up for the rights of Filipinos),” he pointed out.
Saño said Philippine officials have stated that the government would no longer engage in negotiation at a time when the world is gearing up for more ambitious commitments.
He said people can now feel the effects of climate change.
“Not just in our country but it’s a matter of death for other people who face extreme typhoons, extreme weather events and droughts, and hunger and failure of agriculture.”
Saño, who first talked about the Philippines being in a climate emergency after the deadly 2013 Super Typhoon Yolanda, said the Philippine government should reiterate such message.
“If the government will send someone to represent the interest of Filipinos in the UN Climate Action Summit, we should bring that sense of urgency - tell them the Philippines is declaring this as a climate emergency,” he said.
“We haven’t heard this from our government despite experiencing all of the worst impacts of climate change,” he said.
With the climate strike done, climate activists are setting their sights towards the UN Youth Climate Summit and the UN Climate Action Summit.
The Climate Change Commission is sending Miss Earth 2017 Karen Ibasco as youth climate ambassador for the UN Youth Climate Summit.
However, there is still no confirmation if Climate Change Commission Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman will be attending the UN Climate Action Summit where countries are expected to increase their climate pledges.