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Hundreds of thousands join world youth climate demo

Sunday, March 17, 2019

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MONTREAL, Canada (AFP) — Hundreds of thousands of young people skipped school across the globe on Friday to march through the streets for an international day of student protests aimed at pushing world leaders into action on climate change.

Classrooms in capitals from Bangkok to Berlin and Lagos to London emptied as organisers of the student strike called demos in more than 100 countries.

Students flooded into the streets across Europe, North America and Asia carrying placards reading: “There is no planet B”, “You're destroying our future” and “If you don't act like adults, we will.”

Despite three decades of warnings, carbon dioxide emissions hit record levels in 2017 and again last year.

Loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases at current rates will eventually lead to an uninhabitable planet, scientists say.

In Stockholm, Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg who inspired the protests, warned that time was running out.

“We are living through an existential crisis that has been ignored for decades and if we do not act now it may be too late,” the 16-year-old told Swedish public television station SVT.

Writing on Instagram, Thunberg — who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism — estimated more than 10,000 youngsters had joined the Stockholm protest.

Across the world, their placards formed a mosaic:

“Like the ocean, we will rise” (Sydney)

“Our future in your hands” (Berlin)

“System Change not Climate Change” (Vienna)

“Don't be a Trump” (Hong Kong)

“The Titanic would have NO problem in 2019” (Elmshorn, Germany)

And everywhere, “There is no planet B.”

Montreal drew among the largest crowds, estimated by organisers at nearly 150,000.

“When you have winds of change, demanded by young people like this, governments have a moral duty to listen and act on the environment,” Montreal university student Cedric Remy, 21, told AFP.

In the United States, protests were more low-key, with events held in New York, Washington, Chicago, Portland, Oregon, and St Paul, Minnesota, where one sign read: “So bad even introverts are here!”

In Delhi, one of the world's most polluted cities, 200 students took part in a colourful protest, waving ribbons, juggling and performing stunts with hoops.

“We have to make a choice whether we want to sit and be indifferent or do something for our planet,” said 16-year-old student Srijani Datta.

In Sydney, 18-year-old Charles Rickwood warned that Australia's famous Great Barrier Reef could be destroyed.

“If current trends in the environment continue, we'll see the one, two degrees increase in our ocean then it will simply become unsustainable and we could lose the entire Great Barrier Reef,” he told AFP.

SKIPPING EXAMS

European students were also out en masse. Several thousand youngsters thronged the streets of central London in a raucous demonstration with banners and placards.

Packing into Parliament Square, they cheered and chanted “Change... now!” before marching past Downing Street and massing outside Buckingham Palace.

“They're not going to stop me trying to save the planet,” said 15-year-old Joe Crabtree from south-west London, who had missed two exams to join the demo.

More than one million marched overall, according to estimates by organising groups such as the Youth For Climate movement and AFP reporters.

The Fridays for Future movement said more than 300,000 young people demonstrated in Germany alone.

As youngsters hit the streets, nations meeting at the UN environment assembly in Kenya announced they had agreed to “significantly reduce” single-use plastics over the next decade.

But experts said the pledge — which only referred to man-made global warming and made no mention of the fossil fuels driving it — fell far short of the steps needed to tackle Earth's burgeoning pollution crisis.

-ADULTS SHOULD LEARN A LESSON

The global action drew a mixed reaction from politicians.

Germany's Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said the demonstrators should be in class while Australia's Education Minister Dan Tehan said striking was “not something that we should encourage”.

But New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hailed the action, saying: “We hear you and we're getting on with setting a path for carbon neutrality.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres offered his strongest support yet for the strikes, writing in the Guardian newspaper: “Without ambitious action, the Paris agreement is meaningless.”

Guterres also called for world leaders to come to the Climate Action Summit in New York in September “with concrete, realistic plans” to further reduce their emissions by 2020, in order to reach a target of 45 per cent lower emissions over the next decade, and to net zero by 2050.

Greenpeace praised the global protests, saying adults needed to learn a lesson.

In the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, students circulated a petition to be submitted to the government demanding concrete measures.

“The planet is heating up, the youth are rising up,” they chanted.

MY EYES HURT FROM POLLUTION

The Paris treaty calls for capping global warming at “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) but the planet is currently on track to heat up by double that figure.

The UN's climate science panel warned in October that only a wholesale transformation of the global economy and consumer habits could forestall a catastrophe.

“My eyes hurt from pollution. My shirt gets dirty from dust,” 13-year-old protester Shagun Kumari told AFP in Delhi.

“I want fresh air that won't harm my lungs and clean water to drink so that I don't keep falling sick.”


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