NEW YORK — Friday, Sept. 20, marked the start of protests across the planet as millions of people joined youth-led climate strikes demanding governments take urgent and transformative action on climate change.
Young climate activists from more than 150 countries are now calling on everyone to join them in the fight for a just, resilient and sustainable future. They draw their inspiration from Swedish student Greta Thunberg, whose refusal to go to school to protest climate inaction has fueled a global movement.
“We believe that all struggles are worthwhile. We will continue to push for climate action to protect our nature, our people and our future,” said Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, an environmental and indigenous rights activist from Honduras.
Zúñiga, the daughter of the late environmental defender Berta Cáceres, who was killed for opposing a dam project in 2016, joins Thunberg in the call for climate action and in discussions with international leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit taking place in New York next week.
“We have no choice but to fight for our rights. Our proposal is for governments to set high ambitions and [determine] how we are going to make radical change. And this is an opportunity for us to clamor [for] climate justice,” said Zúñiga, who, along with more than 200 environmental and human rights groups, took part in a people’s summit that was held ahead of the global climate strike.
New era of climate movement
The summit adopted a declaration calling on governments and corporations to urgently tackle the climate emergency and ramp up climate commitments.
“This is the moment of urgency. This is the new era of climate movement. And it is time to fight for human rights-centered climate action,” said Kumi Naidoo, secretary-general of Amnesty International. “We need to seize the opportunity to hold governments and corporations alike to be accountable. Nature does not negotiate and we cannot change the science. We need political will because it is our responsibility to rise up for the benefit of the generations to come.”
Naidoo said that apart from joining the strike, these organizations plan to pursue more concerted climate litigation efforts, target the financial sector’s funding of fossil fuels, make more effective use of human rights accountability mechanisms, and coordinate more mass mobilization campaigns at national and regional levels.
A key aspect of the climate injustice being highlighted is the fact that people in poorer countries will be hit hardest by the impacts of a changing climate.
Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said the declaration marks a new era of climate activism by putting people and human rights at the core of its solutions.
“We will all take action and confront those responsibilities. Weak governments and toxic corporate power will have nowhere to hide as we put people at the center of our demands and seek climate justice for the communities least responsible but most vulnerable to this climate emergency,” Morgan said.
Pointing to the case of people in poorer countries being hit hardest by the impacts of climate change, Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director Naderev “Yeb” Saño said the global climate strike led by the young has not only created awareness but put pressure on climate policymakers to help people cope with these impacts.
“There is a massive clamor from all sectors at this time of climate emergency. The Philippines, for instance, is a stark example of the gross injustice brought on by climate impacts which infringe on people’s most fundamental rights such as the right to life, shelter, food and livelihood,” Saño said.
Saño, who is in New York participating in the global summit on human rights and climate change ahead of the U.N. Climate Summit called by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, said the Philippines is currently undertaking a landmark investigation into corporate responsibility for climate action.
“If successful, the inquiry could result in the first legal finding of corporate responsibility for human rights violations in the age of climate crisis. This can be a vindication for all climate-impacted communities everywhere,” Saño said.
Skipping school for the planet
Like many countries, the Philippine government gave the green light to more than 23 million public school students to skip classes on Sept. 20 and join the climate protests calling for immediate action to fight climate change.
“Moved by the climate realities faced by the Philippines and inspired by the global youth action, young Filipinos nationwide will take part in the global climate strike,” the Department of Education announced on Sept. 18. “With this, the department enjoins school heads and teachers to excuse students who will be joining the localized climate strike provided that parental consent/legal guardian consent is given.”
The department has also encouraged schools and offices to conduct climate education and action activities within school grounds, including school or community clean-ups, and educational discussions.
“We need to sound the alarm for climate emergency,” said Rodne Galicha, lead convener of the Catholic climate movement Living Laudato Si’ Philippines. “We are one with Pope Francis’ call for urgent action. In solidarity with the young people of the world demanding change and the most vulnerable demanding climate justice, it is our moral duty to be responsible stewards.
“We are glad that the Department of Education enjoins students and teachers to participate in the global climate strike. This is indeed intergenerational action,” Galicha said.
In the Philippines, one of the countries at greatest risk from those impacts, the government has backed the youth-led climate strike and called on developed countries to step up their climate actions.
Thousands of Filipino youths are expected to stage protests in 28 locations demanding the government declare a climate emergency.
“Calling for enhanced climate action is not enough anymore,” said Jefferson Estela, convener of the Youth Strike for Climate Philippines. “This is a climate emergency and the government needs to send a clear policy signal about the urgency of this crisis.”
Among their demands, the youth activists want an immediate phase-out of coal and other fossil fuels, in keeping with President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration to fast-track the development of renewable energy sources. They also want the state to safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples and environmental defenders amid the climate crisis, and strengthen climate adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk reduction management policies.
“The Filipino youth are ready to break the silence and demand the kind of action necessary to save our future from the climate crisis,” said youth climate activist John Leo Algo, program manager of the Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative. “We join the millions of voices worldwide as we scream in the present and fight for our common future.”
Algo emphasized the need for industrialized countries to take more drastic climate action and for developing countries to show stronger political will to properly address climate impacts. He added that there is a need to increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of not only human communities but also natural ecosystems to adapt to this crisis and achieve true sustainable development.
“It is clear that we are already in a climate emergency situation,” said Gerry Arances, executive director of the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development. “It is either we act now or forever perish. For us Filipinos, despite all that we have to endure, we will fight back and fight for our children and the generations to come. And we will start by forcing our government to shift away from coal and fossil fuels as soon as possible.”
Arances pointed out that the latest scientific report from the United Nations warned that without urgent action, the world would face worsening flooding, fiercer typhoons, food shortages and other catastrophic effects as a result of climate change as early as 2040.
Powerful agents for change
As young people push for more concrete action from their governments, the Philippine government says it supports the active participation of Filipino youth in the global mobilization for climate action.
“As agents of change and progress, the youth is in a unique position to raise awareness on the climate emergency and to inspire tangible actions from the ground up,” said Emmanuel de Guzman, secretary of the Philippine government’s Climate Change Commission. “Climate justice delayed is climate justice denied. To rein global warming to below 1.5C [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit] is a moral imperative. Hence, we reiterate our call to the developed world to step up their climate actions and to deliver on their commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.”
De Guzman said the commission also supported the call by President Duterte to fast-track the development of renewable energy sources and to reduce dependence on traditional energy sources such as coal. This pronouncement, he said, comes at a crucial time when the country is finalizing its first nationally determined contribution, its climate action commitment, under the Paris Agreement.
Banner photo: Canberra Climate Strike on September 20, 2019 / Credit: Stephen Smith via Flickr CC BY 2.0
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets worldwide designed to strengthen coverage of the climate story.