MELBOURNE/WELLINGTON • Thousands of young activists in Australia and New Zealand launched a global protest yesterday demanding that politicians and business leaders move swiftly to curb greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change.
Coordinators expected more than a million young people to join "FridaysForFuture" protests in at least 110 countries, inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg's demand for urgent action to slow global warming.
"I'm worried about all the weather disasters. Every time we have a huge bushfire here, another animal might go extinct," said Nina Pasqualini, a 13-year-old at a rally in Melbourne, headed by the group Extinction Rebellion, which led major protests in London recently.
"The government isn't doing as much as it should. It's just scary for younger generations," she said, holding up a placard seeking to stop a proposed new coal mine in Australia.
Global warming due to heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has brought more droughts and heatwaves, melting of glaciers, rising sea levels and devastating floods, scientists say. Australia just experienced its hottest summer on record.
Last year, global carbon emissions hit a record high, despite a warning from the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that output of the gases will have to be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilise the climate.
The global protests inspired by Greta seem to be having an impact. In a shift since the previous European Parliament elections in 2014, mainstream parties have adopted climate change as a rallying cry - spurred in part by the wave of student strikes.
A Eurobarometer poll shows climate change to be a leading concern for European Union voters, not far behind economic issues and rivalling worries about migration.
Mr Udo Bullmann, who heads the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, told Agence France-Presse there is "an historic momentum" for decisive action thanks in part to the student activists. "We hear their call," said the German political leader. "Climate change has never been as central to a European election and to our campaign as this time," he added, as the EU holds its polls this week.
Since Greta began her climate protest outside the Swedish Parliament last August, the "FridaysForFuture" school strike movement has grown exponentially, with groups inspired by her example rapidly clustering into larger, self-organising networks connected across time zones by social media.
More than a million young activists took to the streets in mid-March calling for stronger action on climate change. A key focus is the rapid phasing out of coal used for power generation. Burning coal is a major source of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
In Australia, the fate of a huge planned coal mine in Queensland state has divided the country between those who want the mine for employment and those who want it scrapped because burning the coal will fuel climate change.
Queensland Premier Anna Palaszczuk yesterday said the process to obtain final approvals for Adani Enterprise's controversial Carmichael coal mine must be wrapped up by mid-June.
Adani has been working for a decade to get approvals to develop the project. It aims to start producing 10 million tonnes a year of coal from March next year.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE