“School can wait but climate change won’t.”
Last Friday (15 March), students from every continent walked out of class and into the streets to demand that their leaders take meaningful action against climate change. With over 2000 events in up to 125 countries and over a million participants, it was easily the biggest and most international climate change demonstration to date.
Many students held placards with sobering remarks such as “No jobs on a dead planet”, “How do we sleep when our beds are burning?” and most famously, “No Planet B”, the de facto motto of the protests. The most poignant remarks came from students in the most polluted regions on Earth. Shagun Kumari, a 13-year-old protester from Delhi said “My eyes hurt from pollution. My shirt gets dirty from dust” and “I want fresh air that won’t harm my lungs and clean water to drink so that I don’t keep falling sick.”
“If you don’t act like adults, we will.”
According to a report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change has already increased global temperatures by about 1°C since pre-industrial times. The crucial threshold is 1.5°C of warming, after which we would experience “more heatwaves and hot summers, greater sea level rise, and, for many parts of the world, worse droughts and rainfall extremes”. The only way to stop this would be for global carbon dioxide emissions to drop to 55% of 2010 levels by 2030. Emissions also need to reach “net zero” (where we remove as much carbon as we emit) by 2050.
World leaders had mixed responses to the protests. Some, like Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, said the students should stay in school. Others, like Australia’s Education Minister Dan Tehan, condemned the strike. However, there are prominent supporters like UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who said “without ambitious action, the Paris agreement is meaningless.”