20 September, 2019
By SJA Jafri
MELBOURNE/ SYDNEY/ NEW YORK: Thousands of young Australians walking out of their classrooms to demand action on climate change have been joined by thousands more adults in cities and towns around the nation.
The global day of action, led by Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, is happening three days before the United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York.
Organizers say they expect millions of people to turn out worldwide in 150 countries.
In Australia, demonstrations took place in all eight capital cities and 104 other centres across Australia.
The Australian protesters want the Federal Government to commit to:
No new coal, oil or gas projects
100 per cent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030
Funding for “a just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel industry workers and communities”
The movement has rallied behind 18-year-old Thunberg, who first started protesting alone outside Sweden’s Parliament last year.
As the Australian protests began she tweeted in support.
“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!”
The movement has been controversial in Australia, with some teachers being accused of bias and bringing politics into the classroom, and the Federal Government linking the demonstrations to flagging test results.
More than 2,500 Australian businesses took part, either closing their doors or allowing their employees to walk off the job.
The businesses signed on to Not Business As Usual, an alliance which said it was a “group of Australian and global businesses pledging to support worker participation in the climate strike”.
The centres of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane were brought to a standstill as the protests snaked their way through CBD streets.
Organisers in Melbourne said 150,000 people turned out to the protest march there. Victoria Police declined to provide an estimate of crowd numbers.
Tens of thousands turned out at The Domain in Sydney for the rally there.
In Brisbane, organizers estimated more than 35,000 people were in attendance. Queensland Police said the figure was closer to 12,000.
The rally was approved by Brisbane City Council but criticized by both sides of politics, with Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace arguing student protests should take place outside school hours.
Marching with his classmates, 10-year-old Parker Renshaw said he and his fellow students were fearful for their future.
“I would love to be in school at the moment but it’s not much choice to be here, the Government is forcing us to come.
“My education is important but the world is even more important and we need to help it.”
In Hobart, thousands of protesters gathered at the lawns outside Parliament House.
“Activism is education and this is our classroom,” teen activist Toby Thorpe told a cheering crowd.
“But we’re not the students here, we are the teachers, and we will not stop until we’re heard.”
Johanna Ellis, 21, said her workplace had closed for the day, “but we’re still getting paid to rally”.
In Canberra, thousands marched through the city and gathered in Glebe Park, demanding action from Australia’s leaders.
“It’s important that our Government hears out our youth and what we have to say,” one protester said.
Students in an RMIT University engineering course attending Melbourne’s rally were offered assignment marks for marching, the university confirmed.
“Students in this course are currently completing a design project, and a component of this project relates to environmental impact and ethics,” a university spokesperson said.
“While the teacher has determined that the conversation at today’s global climate strike is educational and relevant to the learning for this project, RMIT will of course be looking at the decision to ensure that assessment integrity is maintained.”
Cairns organiser Piper Lily O’Connell said many Queensland protesters were focused on stopping the Adani Carmichael coal mine.
“We’re in the thick of a climate crisis right now, in Australia, but especially in Cairns we feel that pretty strongly. The Great Barrier Reef is on our doorstep and dying.
“These are pretty scary things and as a teenager … we’re the ones that are going to be impacted by this.”
In Alice Springs more than 500 people attended the climate strike in the Todd Mall, with school students making up a large portion of the crowd.
The protesters focused on how climate change is affecting Indigenous people in remote communities.
Hundreds of people rallied in Townsville during the morning, many missing work and school.
“It’s our future and we care so much about our future and that is why we are here,” 13-year-old Ella Rizos said.
The protests were spurred on by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last year that detailed a catastrophic future of extreme weather events if greenhouse gas emissions were not reined in.
The United Nations released a report in February showing that the 20 warmest years on record had all been in the past 22 years.
Australia is a signatory to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the global deal to combat climate change, and pledged to reduce the country’s emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Figures released in August showed Australia’s carbon emissions were continuing to climb.
Date released in June showed Australia’s pollution was at an all-time high across most sectors.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley said if the purpose of the protest was to draw Government attention to climate change “I can assure everyone that our attention is already there”.
“We are taking real and coordinated global action on climate change, while ensuring our economy remains strong,” she said in a statement.
In a statement, Education Minister Dan Tehan drew a link between the global strike movement and flagging test results around the country.
“The true test of the protesters’ commitment would be how many turned up for a protest held on a Saturday afternoon,” he said.