'We are scared - listen to us!' London students demand at climate protest

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 15 February 2019 17:53 GMT

Zakiyya, 14, a student at Clapton Girls' Academy in London, carries a sign at a youth climate protest in London's Parliament Square, February 15, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Laurie Goering

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When it comes to climate change, politicians "don't realise how bad it is. But we do," say students as thousands join UK protests

By Laurie Goering

LONDON, Feb 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Saying adults were not doing enough to deal with increasingly serious threats from climate change, thousands of school children across Britain missed classes and packed protests Friday, demanding faster action to protect their future.

"We will go back to school when you make the climate cool," read one homemade sign in London's Parliament Square - one of more than 60 protest locations across the country, organisers of the Youth 4 Climate strike said.

Young protesters - some in their school uniforms - whistled, chanted, waved signs and for a time blocked traffic outside Parliament, climbing on top of a red doubledecker tourist bus to demand, "Change! Now!".

Orla de Wardener, 10, said she had been inspired by the example of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old student whose regular Friday protests outside Sweden's parliament have led to a spreading international school strike movement.

After reading about Thunberg in a children's science magazine, "I was totally enthralled with her. She's amazing," said de Wardener, a student at Weston Park Primary School near Finsbury Park in north London.

Adults, she said, do not act on climate change because "they're involved with their money and their work. They don't care," said de Wardener, who sported a polar bear hat and a hand-coloured sign reading, "Your failure, our future".

Politicians, she said, "have had their life. They don't see much point in fighting for the future".

Orla de Wardener, 10, and Iris Adderley, 9, of Weston Park Primary School in London wear animal hats and carry signs at a youth climate protest in London's Parliament Square, February 15, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Laurie Goering

Her classmate, 9-year-old Iris Adderley, said she was worried about the quickening pace of extinctions in nature, and the risks of sea level rise, including flooding in Britain.

"Adults just don't think about it enough," she said.

Nora Mackay, 15, a student from south London, said her school's administration had discouraged students from attending the protest, "but everyone is here anyway", she said.

"My parents said go on the march. The future of the world is more important than one day of school," she said, standing with dozens of placard-waving classmates in the square.

'FAILING OUR RESPONSIBILITY'

Christiana Figueres, who was U.N. climate chief when the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change was agreed, said she hoped politicians would heed the "deeply moving voice of youth and schoolchildren, who are so worried about their future".

That children feel they need to strike to draw attention to the problem "is a sign we are failing in our responsibility to protect them from the worsening impacts of climate change," she said.

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, said students were taking action because "young people know their lives are going to be changed dramatically by the impacts of climate change".

"The risks that older people hope they might dodge are the problems the young will inherit," he warned in a press release. "While we're failing to deliver the changes young people need, we can hardly blame them for taking action themselves."

Students at a youth climate protest in London's Parliament Square block traffic outside Parliament, February 15, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Laurie Goering

Global temperatures are on course for a rise of 3 degrees to 5 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, far overshooting a global target of limiting the increase to 2C or less, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization says.

That is bringing growing risks from extreme weather - including worsening droughts, floods, fires and storms - as well as threats of worsening hunger, poverty and water shortages, scientists say.

Limiting those risks will require "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes" to the world's energy systems and to human behavior, scientists said in an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released last October.

Friday's protests are just the latest in an international string of youth strikes and efforts to sue governments to protect future generations, many of them led by people too young to vote.

Organisers of the British protests said their demands included more information about the "ecological crisis" in the national curriculum, declaration of a national "climate emergency" and a lowering of the national voting age to 16.

Bruno Olliffe, 12, of Town Close School in Norwich,carries a sign at a youth climate protest in London's Parliament Square, February 15, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Laurie Goering

LESS MEAT, MORE WALKING

Many of the students at the Parliament Square protests said they were taking action in their own lives to cut climate-changing emissions, from eating less meat to cutting out airline flights and walking or biking more.

Others said they and many of their classmates were choosing to write speeches and essays on climate change as part of their schoolwork, and that they saw the issue becoming a hot topic on social media.

Many of Friday's protests were organised via social media, with participants saying they had read up on climate change there.

Zakiyya, 14, who attends Clapton Girls' Academy in Hackney in east London and asked that her surname not be used, said she became a vegan last year, after learning how much meat and dairy production drove climate-changing emissions.

"This is our lives, our future. If we want to live, we need to make changes now," she said, carrying a sign pleading, "We are scared. Listen to us!"

Bruno Olliffe of Norwich in the east of England said he and his family had taken up recycling, but he thought the most powerful way to bring change was to convince parliamentarians of the need - one reason he'd traveled to London with his mother.

Right now, "they're too stuffed up with Brexit," said the 12-year-old. When it comes to climate change, "they don't realise how bad it is. But we do."

Speeches by Thunberg and naturalist David Attenborough had made it clear, he said, that "the impacts will hit the whole world, every corner".

"It's my future, and I don't want it to be ruined," he said.

(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

Students block traffic aboard a red double decker tourist bus at a youth climate protest in London's Parliament Square, February 15, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Laurie Goering

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