Tens 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.
From the Pacific Islands, many of which risk being inundated by rising seas, to New Zealand, Australia and Thailand, people took to the streets to call on governments to take urgent steps to tackle the climate crisis and prevent an environmental catastrophe.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who inspired the climate strike, tweeted her support.
“Incredible pictures,” she wrote from New York where she will lead the protest. “This is the huge crowd building up in Sydney. Australia is setting the standard!”
Protests were expected to take place in 110 towns and cities across Australia, the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas, with crowds calling on the government to commit to a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.
At least 2,000 companies gave people time off in order to attend the rally, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
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
“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.
Children in the Solomon Islands protested on the coast wearing traditional grass skirts and carrying wooden shields in solidarity with the global movement.
In 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.
School students ignored politicians who told them to stay in their classrooms to join the global climate strike on Friday. These young women attended the protest in Canberra, Australia [Kate Walton/Al Jazeera]
Day of protest
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 summit brings together world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies, including the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
In some countries, including Australia and the United States, climate change policy has become a political football.
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.
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
Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told parliament on Thursday that students should not take part in the protest movement. “When school is sitting, students should go to school,” he said.
Alison, a 12-year-old primary school student, told an estimated 10,000 people who had gathered in the Australian capital of Canberra that she and her classmates had decided saving the planet was more important than classes.
“Politicians worry about us not going to school,” she said. “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.”
An estimated 10,000 people turned out in the Australian capital, Canberra, as a global day of climate protests got under way in the Asia Pacific region [Kate Walton/Al Jazeera]
By early afternoon, the protests in Sydney were spilling out of the 34-hectare (84-acre) open space in the city. Similar crowds were reported in Brisbane and other state capitals.
Danielle Porepilliasana, a high school student in Sydney’s inner west, said politicians needed to wake up.
“World leaders from everywhere are telling us that students need to be at school doing work,” Porepilliasana told Reuters.
I’m here because I want to live
Elizabeth Whitbread, protester
“I’d like to see them at their parliaments doing their jobs for once.”
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.”
A woman at a climate rally on the Indonesian island of Bali [Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP]
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.
Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Whitbread, who attended the protests in Canberra with a banner saying she was “hoping for a cooler death” said climate change had become a matter of life and 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.”
Additional reporting by Kate Walton in Canberra