Hundreds of thousands of protesters, many of them school students, have gathered in towns and cities across the Asia Pacific region, kicking off a day of worldwide protests calling for action against climate change ahead of a United Nations summit.
From the Pacific Islands to New Zealand, Australia and Thailand, protesters took to the streets on Friday, demanding their governments take urgent steps to tackle the climate crisis and prevent an environmental catastrophe.
Organisers estimated 300,000 people turned up for the “global climate strike” in Australia, the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas.
Protests were staged in 110 towns and cities across the country, with crowds calling on the government to commit to a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Incredible pictures as Australia’s gathering for the #climatestrike
This is the huge crowd building up in Sydney.
Australia is setting the standard!
Its bedtime in New York…so please share as many pictures as you can as the strikes move across Asia to Europe and Africa! pic.twitter.com/7eAPUQPq5C
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) September 20, 2019
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who inspired the climate strike, tweeted her support.
“Incredible pictures,” she wrote from New York. “This is the huge crowd building up in Sydney. Australia is setting the standard!”
Protests are planned in some 150 countries on Friday and will culminate in New York when Thunberg, who has been nominated for a Nobel prize for her activism on climate change, leads the march in the city where the United Nations has its headquarters.
The UN Climate Action summit brings together world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies, including the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
‘I want to live’
In Canberra, the Australian capital, a 12-year-old primary school student told an estimated 10,000 people said she and her classmates had decided saving the planet was more important than classes.
“Politicians worry about us not going to school,” said Alison. “But we’re learning about the world, the danger we’re in and what we can do about it. We know it’s important to go to school and learn, but we know it is more important to save the planet for future generations to learn on.”
Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Whitbread attended the Canberra protest with a banner saying she was “hoping for a cooler death”.
“I’m here because I want to live,” she said. “We all have the right to the life we set out to have. I don’t want to die young.”
Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said students should be in school.
“These sorts of rallies should be held on a weekend where it doesn’t actually disrupt business, it doesn’t disrupt schools, it doesn’t disrupt universities,” McCormack told reporters in Melbourne.
“I think it is just a disruption,” he added.
Australia’s conservative government – while stopping short of outright climate change denial – has sought to frame the debate as a choice between jobs or abstract CO2 targets.
‘No Planet B’
In the Solomon Islands, school children protested on the coast wearing traditional grass skirts and carrying wooden shields in solidarity with the global movement.
“We are not sinking, we are fighting,” read one of the placards carried by protesters in Kiribati, a chain of atolls in the Pacific ocean that some fear could be under water within 25 years.
The Global #ClimateStrike has begun!
This is how students are showing up for their strike in the Solomon Islands! pic.twitter.com/PmLKtlgwxW
— Jamie Henn (@Agent350) September 19, 2019
In Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, students called for action against wildfires on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, which have caused health problems for people across the region.
“The youth here are saying they want the government to deal with this issue more urgently and take more action,” said Al Jazeera’s Raheela Mahomed, reporting from the protest site.
In the Thai capital, Bangkok, which at just 1.5 metres above sea level also risks being inundated, about 200 protesters marched to the Ministry of Environment to deliver a letter calling on the government to declare a climate emergency.
“There is no Planet B,” said one of the signs, beneath a sketch of a human being holding up the earth.
No protests were authorised in China, the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, but Zheng Xiaowen of the China Youth Climate Action Network said Chinese youth would take action one way or another.
“Chinese youth have their own methods,” she said.
“We also pay attention the climate and we are also thinking deeply, interacting, taking action, and so many people are very conscientious on this issue.”
Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has already led to droughts and heatwaves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and floods, scientists say.
Carbon emissions climbed to a record high last year, despite a warning from the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that output of the gases must be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilise the climate.
US President Donald Trump said in 2017 that he would pull the US out of the Paris Agreement under which countries have committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to tackle rising global temperatures.
Additional reporting by Kate Walton in Canberra
Hundreds of thousands of protesters, many of them school students, gathered in towns and cities across the Asia Pacific region on Friday, at the start of a worldwide day of protest in the run-up to a United Nations climate change summit next week.