World’s youth return to the streets to fight climate change
BRUSSELS, Sept 24: Young people around the world began taking to the streets on Friday to demand urgent action to avert disastrous climate change, in their largest protest since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The strike takes place five weeks before the U.N. COP26 summit, which aims to secure more ambitious climate action from world leaders to drastically cut the greenhouse gas emissions heating the planet. "Everyone is talking about making promises, but nobody keeps their promise. We want more action," said Farzana Faruk Jhumu, 22, a youth climate activist in Dhaka, Bangladesh. "We want the work, not just the promises."
Demonstrations kicked off in Asia and were planned in more than 1,500 locations, according to youth movement Fridays for Future. A landmark U.N. climate science report in August warned that human activity has already locked in climate disruptions for decades - but that rapid, large-scale action to reduce emissions could still stave off some of the most destructive impacts.
The United Nations said last week that countries' commitments would see global emissions increase to be 16% higher in 2030 than they were in 2010 - far off the 45% reduction by 2030 needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Friday's strike marks the in-person return of the youth climate protests that in 2019 drew more than six million people onto the streets, before the COVID-19 pandemic largely halted the mass gatherings and pushed much of the action online.
Yusuf Baluch, 17, a youth activist in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, said the return to in-person events was vital to force leaders to tackle the planetary crisis. "Last time it was digital and nobody was paying attention to us," he said. But with access to COVID-19 vaccines still highly uneven around the world, activists in some poorer countries said they would only hold symbolic actions with only a handful of people. "In the global north, people are getting vaccinated so they might be out in huge quantities. But in the global south, we are still limited," Baluch said.
Tens of thousands of climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, rallied in cities across Germany Friday ahead of the weekend general election to crank up the pressure on the candidates to succeed Angela Merkel.
Speaking at a rally in front of the Reichstag parliament building in the run-up to Sunday's poll, Thunberg told cheering Fridays for Future youth supporters that they needed to hold Germany's political leaders to account past election day.
"It is clearer than ever that no political party is doing close to enough... not even their proposed commitments are close to being in line with what would be needed to fulfil the Paris Agreement" on curbing climate change, she said. "Yes, we must vote, you must vote, but remember that voting only will not be enough. We must keep going into the streets."
The head of Fridays for Future's German chapter said the country, one of the world's top emitters of greenhouse gases, had an outsize responsibility to set an example, with time running out to reverse destructive trends. "That is why we are calling this the election of a century," Luisa Neubauer told AFP. The race has boiled down to a two-way contest between Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, the centrist finance minister, and Armin Laschet from Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats. Both were set to address crowds later Friday, in Cologne and Munich respectively.
Polls give Scholz a small lead of about 25 percent over Laschet at around 22 percent, with the candidate from the ecologist Greens, Annalena Baerbock, trailing in the mid-teens. All three leading parties have said they aim to implement a climate protection agenda if elected, with the Greens presenting the most ambitious package of measures.
Despite the urgency of the climate for a majority of Germans, particularly in the aftermath of deadly summer floods in western Germany, the relatively inexperienced Baerbock has failed to garner widespread support among voters. Baerbock, who joined one of the Fridays for Future rallies in Cologne, told Die Welt newspaper that she hoped the protests would give her party "tailwinds" heading into the vote.
More than 400 "climate strikes" were taking place across Germany on Friday, with the Swedish Thunberg, who inspired the two-year-old movement, due to speak outside the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin.
Thousands gathered on the lawn there from late morning bearing signs reading "Climate now, homework later", "It's our future" and simply "Vote". "Climate is an important issue and if this continues things are going to get worse and worse," 14-year-old Louise Herr told AFP. The German protests are part of a global climate strike in more than 1,000 communities around the world, Fridays for Future said. Their central demand is to limit the warming of the Earth to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius as laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord.
Despite Merkel's vocal support of climate protection measures, Germany has repeatedly failed to meet its emission reduction targets under the pact. In a landmark ruling in April, Germany's constitutional court found the government's plans to curb CO2 emissions "insufficient" and placed an "unfair burden" on future generations.
In September 2019, the Fridays for Future climate movement drew huge crowds in cities and towns around the world, including 1.4 million protesters in Germany, according to organisers. -REUTERS