NEW YORK: Masses of children skipped school Friday to join a global strike against climate change that teen activist Greta Thunberg said was “only the beginning” in the fight against environmental disaster.
Some four million people filled city streets around the world, organisers said, in what was billed as the biggest ever protest against the threat posed to the planet by rising temperatures.
Youngsters and adults alike chanted slogans and waved placards in demonstrations that started in Asia and the Pacific, spread across Africa, Europe and Latin America, before culminating in the United States where Thunberg rallied.
“Change is coming whether they like it or not,” said Thunberg, hitting out at skeptics as she wrapped up the massive day of action in New York, where she claimed 250,000 protested.
Strike organisers 350.org said Friday’s rallies were the start of 5,800 protests across 163 countries over the next week.
From Berlin to Boston, Kampala to Kiribati, Seoul to Sao Paulo, protesters brandished signs with slogans including “There is no planet B” and “Make The Earth Great Again.”
In New York’s Battery Park, tens of thousands of supporters gave Thunberg a rock star reception, chanting her name as she called on leaders to act now to curb gas emissions.
“Why should we study for a future that is being taken away from us?” she asked. “We demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?”
Events began Friday in the deluge-threatened Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, the Solomons and Kiribati, where children chanted: “We are not sinking, we are fighting.”
The defiance reverberated across the globe as children closed their textbooks in a collective call to action.
“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.
Schoolchildren rallied in India while thousands protested in the Philippines, which experts say faces threats from rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms.
About 200 marched in Ghana’s capital Accra, where some 44 per cent 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 organiser Ellen Lindsey Awuku.
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.”
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.
Several thousand protested in Brazil, where banners slammed President Jair Bolsonaro over recent devastating fires in the Amazon rainforest.
And in Mexico City, protesters wore wrestling masks and skeleton costumes associated with the country’s Day of the Dead celebrations.
Organisers said more than 300,000 children, parents and supporters rallied in Australia alone.
Australia has been struck in recent years by droughts, more intense bushfires, devastating floods and the blanching of the Great Barrier Reef – phenomena experts have blamed on a changing climate.
The protests also highlighted resistance from climate change skeptics.
“The facts are, there is no link between climate change and drought, polar bears are increasing in number,” said Australian ruling coalition parliamentarian Craig Kelly Thursday.
Businesses also backed the protests.
Amazon chief Jeff Bezos pledged Thursday to make the US tech giant carbon neutral by 2040 and encouraged other firms to do likewise.
Friday’s mass action kicked off several 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 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 two degrees Celsius 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. - AFP