Australian students strike against government funding for gas industry

Students participate in a "School Strike 4 Climate" rally in Sydney on May 21, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Thousands of Australian students skipped school on Friday (May 21) and gathered with climate activists to call on the government to stop funding the gas industry, taking aim at Prime Minister Scott Morrison's plans to fund a new gas plant.

During the event dubbed "School Strike 4 Climate" (SS4C), tens of thousands of students congregated across some 50 Australian cities and towns, organisers said.

"Today, together with tens of thousands of my fellow let-down Australians, I am striking from school to tell the Morrison government that they must stop throwing Aussie cash at gas," 16-year old organiser Natasha Abhayawickrama said in a statement.

Many local businesses also closed for the day to join the rallies, which are demanding that the government halts funding for gas and coal projects and invests and creates job in renewable energy instead, the organisers said.

Australia's conservative government has promoted gas to help fuel the economy's recovery from a Covid-induced recession, despite calls from climate experts, green groups and the International Energy Agency to stop new fossil fuel investments.

Gas is also seen by the government as key to Australia's energy transition, as it is cleaner than coal and can fuel flexible power plants to back up wind and solar generation. This week, Australia committed A$600 million (S$619 million) towards a new gas-fired power plant.

Photos posted on social media at noon from Sydney, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne, showed youths and activists holding placards reading "#FundOurFutureNotGas", and "Clean energy solutions not coal and gas pollution".

"A bit of rain won't stop us," Sydney mayor Clover Moore tweeted, adding "we won't stop until the Federal Government gets serious about climate action".

One of the world's largest carbon emitters on a per capita basis, Australia has resisted global calls to commit to a target of net zero emissions by 2050, citing the risk of damage to the economy.

Instead, Australia is investing in technology to meet its Paris Accord commitment to cut carbon emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, including US$418 million (S$557 million) to develop carbon capture and hydrogen projects.

State government officials in New South Wales, the country's largest state, had urged students to stay in school, to little effect.

"We shouldn't have to be here, we should be in school," said Ms Nabilah Chowdhury, another event organiser in Sydney. "But the government just won't listen. They refuse to take action so it's up to us to fight in order to protect our future."

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