Thousands of students leave lessons for climate protests on global day of action
Thousands of students have walked out of lessons and lectures across the UK as part of a global school strike for action on climate change.
Young people from the South Pacific to Europe and the US have taken to the streets, calling on political leaders to take swift action to curb rising global temperatures.
Organisers claimed 50,000 people took part in events in 150 British towns and cities including London, Brighton, Leeds, Manchester, Cambridge and Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Students walked out of lessons to protest in Ireland, including big crowds in central Dublin, and thousands joined marches in Sydney, Paris, Warsaw, Berlin and Brussels, before strikes got under way in the US.
In the UK, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said it was up to school and college leaders to safeguard young people and missing school to protest over climate change should not be condoned.
Mr Barton labelled the protests taking place in the UK as “fruitless” and said children should be learning in school about why climate change matters and how political processes work.
Speaking at ASCL’s annual conference in Birmingham, he said it would be reasonable to expect students to make up any missed work during lunchtime detentions.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said that while it was great that pupils were taking an interest in an issue that was so important in the UK, and around the world, they “should be at school”.
But politicians including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Environment Secretary Michael Gove have spoken of their support for the young climate strikers – who are also backed by scientists, academics and campaigners.
Young people gathered in Parliament Square, London, with placards that read “by the time we’re in charge it will be too late”, “we want you to panic” and “the greatest threat to the planet is the belief someone else will save it”.
They chanted “this is what democracy looks like” while primary school children, who were at the protest with their parents and holding handmade placards, shouted “climate change, boo!”
Joe Crabtree, 15, from south-west London, who is missing GCSE mocks for the protest, said: “I’m here today to send a clear message to Government that I’m fed up with inaction on climate change.
“I think they’re not doing enough to curb the problem that is climate change, leaving it to the side like us with homework, hoping it will get done, but it’s not being dealt with.”
Anna Taylor, 17, from north London – co-founder of the UK Student Climate Network, said the Government was failing to recognise the severity of the crisis.
“They’re failing to make environmental reform and environmental policy a priority, they focusing on economic policy and Brexit and failing to address the climate crisis facing us.”
She said young people felt passionate about tackling climate change and were striking in solidarity with each other around the world.
Scarlet Possnett, 15, described climate change as “the existential threat of my generation and I know I have to do everything I can to address it”.
And she said: “I’d much rather be in school today. I wish I didn’t have to be here in London, but policy change is needed and it’s needed now.”
In Glasgow, Marianne Mylchreest, 20, a Glasgow University student who joined the protest in George Square, said: “We’re out here saying that there’s not enough being done so we’re trying to get people to actually make a difference.
“It’s incredible – schools are coming out, unis are coming out, people that have kids are coming out, there’s dogs here, it’s just great.”
Six-year-old Anna Arbuckle said she joined the George Square demonstrators “to stop the ice from melting”.
Her older sister Lucy, aged 10, said: “The people in power aren’t taking control of the situation and we need to stop it from happening, otherwise our world will heat up and all the ice will melt and there’ll be no place for the polar bears and penguins.”
The global day of action has been inspired by teenager Greta Thunberg, who protests every Friday outside Sweden’s parliament to urge leaders to tackle climate change.
The strikes come in the wake of a UN report last year which warned limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which climate impacts become increasingly severe, requires unprecedented action.
That includes cutting global carbon dioxide emissions by almost half within 12 years, and to zero by mid-century.
Students in the UK are demanding the Government declare a climate emergency and take urgent steps to tackle the problem.