European marchers urge climate action 'before it's too late'

by Laurie Goering and Megan Rowling | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Sunday, 21 September 2014 17:41 GMT

Demonstrators in animal costumes walk on the "People's Climate March" in central London, Sept. 21, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

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Demonstrators demand bold steps to tackle climate change from world leaders at Tuesday's U.N. summit

By Laurie Goering and Megan Rowling

LONDON/BARCELONA, Sept 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in towns and cities across Europe on Sunday, calling for strong and urgent action to tackle climate change from world leaders who will attend a U.N. summit focusing on the issue this week.

In London, the march stretched along the waterfront of the River Thames and passed the Prime Minister's residence, before ending in a rally near the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.

Marchers, representing a wide range of political, environmental, community and religious organisations - from the Green Party to Grandparents for Climate Action - waved banners, chanted, banged drums and sang as they walked under sunny London skies.

"Ignorance was bliss. Now let's be responsible," urged one homemade sign in the crowd. "Climate change is an everybody issue," said another. A share of marchers sported green wigs, hand-stitched "Cut CO2 emissions" signs or polar bear costumes.

Keith Ellis, 39, of Lewes, south of London, said he had come to the march with his 11-year-old daughter Sasha because "we wanted to be part of the millions wanting leaders to have the willpower and courage to make decisions before it's too late."

The London march and others in Europe were part of a global mobilisation, with people in more than 156 countries joining 2,646 events and rallies Sunday in places from New Delhi to Melbourne to Johannesburg and Rio de Janeiro, according to international climate campaign 350.org.

The marches come two days before U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon leads a New York climate summit, which will be attended by some 125 world leaders, called to reinvigorate flagging progress towards a new global climate deal due to be agreed in Paris late next year.

Across Europe, marchers Sunday said they wanted to do their own part to spur action to deal with the problem.

In Paris, there were parades, marches and bicycle rides across the bridges of the Seine, according to international climate campaign 350.org. In Berlin, three parallel marches planned to combine forces in a colourful festival.

In Barcelona, in northeast Spain, more than 2,000 people in white T-shirts, wearing or waving green hearts, walked along the sea front, calling for a "greener, cleaner and fairer world" and shouting "Clean energy now!"

The march was addressed by climate scientists, and ended with a meditation session on the beach and group hugs.

GLOBAL MOBILISATION

"We want leaders - local, national and international - to put an end to their words and intentions, move to action, and take measures against climate change, because scientists have warned we are getting to the point of no return," said Bruno Sokolowicz, Barcelona march facilitator for web campaign group Avaaz, which is running an online petition for action on climate action, signed by more than 2.1 million people so far.

Paulina Jedynak, 31, a biologist and university teacher in Barcelona, said there was a need to raise awareness about climate change among the public and in the media.

"Let's save the earth from what's happening now (due to) industry, pollution and the general thinking about natural resources, which for me is devastating," she said.

Photos from the events around the world were being displayed on big screens in New York City, where the major march of the weekend was taking place with more than 100,000 people expected. Participants included labour unions, environmentalists, social justice and faith groups, migrant communities and students, making it not only the largest, but most diverse demonstration on climate change in U.S. history, 350.org said.

The U.N. secretary-general, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius also attended.

'IT'S OUR FUTURE'

In Britain, Maggie Dolan, 76, of Stevenage, said governments are "paying scant attention to climate change". "But if the (march) numbers are big enough around the world, that will change."

Amber Smith, 15, and Ella Stephenson, 16, out with their families on the march in Barcelona, also said they hoped the global demonstrations would put pressure on leaders meeting in New York.

The students are afraid of the worsening impacts of climate change, including more extreme weather. "It's our future, and that's another part of why we are here," Stephenson said.

In London, John D. Anderson, a Methodist minister from Bradford in Yorkshire, blamed the lack of action on climate change so far on people not having enough of an emotional connection with the issue - something he gained after working in Ethiopia and Botswana a decade ago.

"We've (now) reached a point where we can say it's in your interest, economically and spiritually, to act," he said.

But Lucia Waters, 36, of London's Brixton neighborhood - home to a range of community clean energy projects - said she wondered whether even a large march like Sunday's would be enough to bring change.

"I really, really hope so, but we'll have to wait and see," she said, walking with her husband and their two young children.

(Reporting and editing by Megan Rowling and Laurie Goering; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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