From Sydney to London, thousands of school students walked out of classes on Friday in a global student strike to protest against government inaction on climate change.
“Climate change is worse than Voldemort,” read a handmade sign carried by one student in Wellington, referring to the evil wizard in the hugely popular Harry Potter books and films.
“The oceans are rising, so are we,” read another in Sydney.
Student protests in Wellington, Melbourne and Sydney drew tens of thousands of people. In Europe, students packed streets and squares in cities including Copenhagen, Rome, Vienna and Lisbon. Demonstrations were also planned in the United States.
The worldwide student strike movement started in August 2018, when 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg began protesting outside her parliament on school days. She has since been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Thunberg joined a demonstration in Stockholm on Friday.
“If we don’t do something, it’ll be our lives affected, not the 60-year-old politicians,” said Sydney student Callum Frith, 15, who was wearing his school uniform. “We need action.”
In London, thousands of students marched from Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square holding banners reading “The future is in our hands” and “We’re missing lessons to teach you one”.
More than 220 demonstrations were held across Germany. In Duesseldorf, more than 2,000 schoolchildren paraded with a carnival float depicting a giant effigy of Thunberg with the words “Do something about the climate catastrophe at last,” written along her raised arms.
The children and young people stopped at various points around the city, home to the headquarters of many of Germany’s largest manufacturers, reading out calls for change. “The clock is ticking and time is against us,” they shouted. “We are the last generation that can fix this.”
“We’ll have more hurricanes, we’ll have rising sea levels,” said one boy. “Future generations won’t be able to build a time machine and come back here to remind politicians.”
“TOO WARM 4 SCHOOL”
About 60 students protested at government house in Bangkok, holding cardboard signs to campaign against plastic. Thailand is one of the world’s top marine plastic polluters.
“As youths who will inherit the land, we gather here to demand that the government work with us to solve these problems,” said 17-year-old Thiti Usanakul, of student-led group Grin Green International.
The group was later invited to meet officials at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in two weeks.
In Seoul, more than 100 students held recycled cardboard signs with slogans like “Too Warm 4 School” and “Don’t deny climate change”.
In Singapore, where strict laws regulate public assembly, young people planned a virtual campaign on social media.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has pledged NZ$100 million ($68 million) to cut greenhouse gas emissions, supports the strikes, saying teenagers should not wait for voting age to use their voices.
That contrasts with politicians in Australia and Britain who have rebuked them for missing lessons.
“For action on issues that they think is important, they should do that after school or on weekends,” Dan Tehan, Australia’s education minister, told reporters ahead of protests in Melbourne.
Wellington parent Alex, who marched beside his 11-year-old son, disagreed. “It’s a much better day of education,” he said. “This is the greatest issue of our time.”
Scientists say fossil fuel use releases greenhouse gases that trap heat and lift global temperatures, bringing more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels.
The 2015 Paris climate conference pledge to limit the rise to 2 degrees C (35 F) requires a radical cutback in use of coal and fossil fuels.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Wellington, Tom Westbrook in Sydney, Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Alex Fraser in London; Additional reporting by Jane Chung and Yijin Kim in SEOUL, Aradhana Aravindan in SINGAPORE, Patpicha Tanakasempipat in BANGKOK, Thomas Escritt in BERLIN and Marie-Louise Gumuchian in LONDON; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)