Schoolchildren throng streets in vast global climate strike

Peter Hutchison with AFP bureaus around the world, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 21 2019 05:33 AM

16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg takes part in a demonstration as part of the Global Climate Strike in lower Manhattan in New York, US on Sept. 20, 2019. Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

NEW YORK, United States—Huge numbers of children skipped school Friday to join a global strike against climate change that teen activist Greta Thunberg hopes will mark a turning point in persuading leaders to act against environmental disaster.

Chanting slogans and waving placards, youngsters and adults filled the streets of cities across the world in what was expected to be the biggest ever protest against the threat posed to the planet by warming temperatures.

Demonstrations across Asia and the Pacific kicked off the day of action, which spread to Africa and Europe, with crowds turning out in Paris, London and Berlin, before nearing their completion in the United States where Thunberg rallied.

"I hope this will be another social tipping point that we show how many people are engaged, how many people are putting pressure on leaders," the 16-year-old told AFP in New York.

Organizers forecast protests in more than 5,000 locations across 137 countries. In Australia alone, they said more than 300,000 children, parents and supporters rallied.

Although there was no official turnout, Thunberg said "millions" had participated.

"It can't go on any longer. We are at the end of our planet," said Bernie Waldman, 14, one of thousands to protest in New York, where 1.1 million students were permitted to skip school for the event.

In Slovakia, 5-year-old Teo asked a crowd of 500 "not to cut down forests, and reduce garbage production and not to use so many petrol-fuelled cars."

"Stop climate change now" and "There is no planet B" read some of the signs brandished by demonstrators in a trendy central shopping district of Tokyo.

"We adults caused this planet emergency. We should take our responsibilities for the next generation," said Chika Maruta, 32.

'WE DESERVE BETTER'

Swedish schoolgirl Thunberg called on leaders to act now to curb gas emissions.

"Now we have proven what we can do, now they have to prove what they can (do). They need to take their responsibility," she said. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel used Friday to pledge at least 100 billion euros by 2030 to tackle emissions in the energy and industrial sectors, boost zero tailpipe emission electric vehicles and get passengers out of planes and onto trains.

About 200 marched in Ghana's capital Accra, where some 44 percent of the country's population has not heard of climate change, according to a study by Afrobarometer.

"Developing countries like Ghana are the most affected. We don't have the resources to adapt to climate change," said 26-year-old protest organizer Ellen Lindsey Awuku.

Hundreds also took to the streets in Kenya and Uganda.

Events began in the deluge-threatened Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, the Solomons and Kiribati, where children chanted: "We are not sinking, we are fighting."

The defiance message was heard across Asia.

"We are the future and we deserve better," 12-year-old Lilly Satidtanasarn, known as "Thailand's Greta" for her campaign against plastic bags in malls, told AFP in Bangkok.

'YOU'RE BEING LIED TO'

In Australia, some local authorities, schools and businesses encouraged people to participate in the strikes.

Australia has been struck in recent years by droughts, more intense bushfires, devastating floods and the blanching of the Great Barrier Reef—phenomena blamed on a changing climate.

Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown a link between human-made gas emissions and climate change.

But the protests also highlighted resistance from those who question the threat.

Australian ruling coalition parliamentarian Craig Kelly told children Thursday that "everything you're told is a lie."

"The facts are, there is no link between climate change and drought, polar bears are increasing in number."

BUSINESSES TAKING ACTION

An increasing number of businesses backed the protests.

Amazon chief Jeff Bezos pledged Thursday to make the US retail giant carbon neutral by 2040 and encouraged other firms to do likewise.

Friday's mass action set the scene for a range of high-profile climate events in New York.

A Youth Climate Summit will take place at the United Nations on Saturday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will then host an emergency summit on Monday in which he will urge world leaders to raise their commitments made in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The agreement saw countries pledge to limit the long-term rise in the average temperature of the Earth to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, and if possible, to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

A landmark UN report to be unveiled next week will warn that global warming and pollution are ravaging Earth's oceans and icy regions in ways that could unleash misery on a global scale.