Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Australia, many of them children who skipped school, kicked off a day of demonstrations around the world against climate change in the run-up to a U.N. summit in New York.
Rallies to open the “Global Climate Strike” took place on Friday in 110 towns and cities across Australia, including Sydney and the national capital, Canberra. Demonstrators called for their country, the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas, to take more drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Even though we ourselves aren’t sick, the planet which we live on is, and we are protesting and fighting for it,” said Siobhan Sutton, a 15-year-old student at Perth Modern School.
Organizers estimate more than 300,000 protesters took to Australian streets in what would be the country’s biggest demonstration since the Iraq War in 2003.
Smaller protests took place in Asia, from the Philippines to Hong Kong and India.
“We need to reclaim our constitutional right to clean air and water,” said Aman Sharma, a 16-year-old protester in India’s capital New Delhi.
Rallies were also planned in Europe, Africa and the United States, where organizers say more than 800 events are expected Friday.
In Germany, which has seen large-scale climate rallies for over a year, police said 17,000 people had gathered in the southwestern city of Freiburg, one of 500 cities across the country where protests were planned.
In the capital Berlin and Germany’s financial hub of Frankfurt some protesters staged brief road blockades to highlight their demands for a drastic reduction in the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, to which transport is a major contributor.
Under pressure from sustained protests over the past months, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning to announce a package of measures to reduce Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions later Friday.
Rallies were also held in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Johannesburg and the South African capital, Pretoria.
Experts say Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change and the least equipped to deal with it. Governments have pleaded for more support from the international community.
The protests are partly inspired by the activism of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has staged weekly demonstrations under the heading “Fridays for Future” over the past year, calling on world leaders to step up their efforts against climate change. Thunberg is expected to speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit on Monday.
Australian universities have said they will not penalize students for attending Friday’s rallies, while Australian schools vary on what action, if any, they take against children who skip classes to attend demonstrations.
Perth student Sutton said she would fail a math exam by attending a protest in the west coast city of Perth.
“I have basically been told that because it is not a valid reason to be missing school — it is not a medical reason or anything — I am going to get a zero on the test if I don’t actually sit it,” she said.
She said her math teacher had given her the option to sit the exam before Friday, but she was unable to do so because of her commitments as one of the protest organizers.
Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said students should be in school.
In addition, Joaquin Phoenix, Susan Sarandon, Antonio Banderas, Rosario Dawson, Rainn Wilson and more joined forces with the UN Environment for a brand new campaign, #WorldIsInOurHand, founded by Canadian photographer Justin Wu.
During the Toronto International Film Festival, the stars used the campaign to shine a spotlight on the global climate emergency; so far, the campaign has attracted more than 6.6 million views, and received 255,000-plus in engagement in just two days since its launch.
This will continue to the UN Climate Summit in NYC next week, with other celebrities and world leaders.
For more information on #WorldIsInOurHand visit their official website here.
Celebs have been taking to Twitter to voice their support for the students attending the protest. See some of the response below.
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What do we want? Climate Action! The kids have spoken! Well done to all the young climate strikers for taking part in #climatestrike drawing immediate attention to the climate change emergency!! Taking to the streets and demanding an end to the age of fossil fuels!! Coming out in droves like Children Of The Corn with far better intentions. Telling our political leaders that if they’re gonna speak for them they need to listen to them! The climate crisis is upon us. Children understand the basic science that if we continue to pollute the planet climate change will worsen and they won’t have a future. None of us will. The planet will die and if you do the math pretty sure that means ….um yep we’ll also be disposed of unceremoniously too🤔So yeah definitely immediate, urgent and necessary wouldn’t you say ..? Get moving “leaders” Step 1 – move away from the burning of fossil fuels, no more new oil, gas, coal projects (that’s you Adani Mine) Step 2 – move toward 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030 Step 3- fund a just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel workers and communities as this transition occurs