On September 20, a Friday, children in more than 200 countries across the world skipped school as part of a worldwide strike for the climate. The message that they seemed to carry to the streets was this: Listen up, grown-ups, you’ve failed us.
Millions of young people from Sydney to Warsaw to London to Mumbai skipped school to demand urgent action on climate change. This was the third global strike this year and involved more than 3,000 protests, according to Fridays for Future, the group that organised them.
Swedish high school student, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg led the protest in New York, where more than 60 national leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, spoke about their plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.
Thunberg staged her first Friday school strike outside the Swedish Parliament in August last year—and she sat alone. Later, some students joined her. Last December, she travelled by train to Poland to speak at the UN meeting. By spring, a global movement had been launched—and she’s the face of it.
The Fridays for Future movement has chapters across the world—students in 13 Indian cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, held the protest on September 20 as part of the global strike.
The movement has spread beyond students. Several corporations and organizations have pledged their support to the movement.
In December 2018, she called world leaders “irresponsible children”. In January this year, she was sharp in her criticism of business world’s elite at the Davos summit.
She arrived in New York a week before the UN climate summit aboard a solar-powered yacht, to cause zero emission, from Europe as a protest against high emission impact of the aviation industry.
Thunberg testified to the US Congress after her arrival in New York. She submitted last October’s report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning that warned the rise of global temperatures was hastening to an alarming degree. Scientists advise that global greenhouse gases must be reduced by 45% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.
The 2015 Paris Agreement is for holding the temperature rise to at least 2 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era. A UN analysis has found that commitments to cut planet-warming gases must be at least tripled and increased by up to fivefold if the world is to meet the goals of the agreement.
By the current warming rate, the world will warm by as much as 3.4 degree Celsius by the end of the century, the UN has warned. This will lead to disastrous heat waves, flooding, droughts and extinction of major coral reefs and many other species.
When Thunberg said, “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal,” at the UN summit, there was a reason.
China said absolutely nothing new, India mentioned commitments made in the past, the US, Canada and Australia were not there. The big emitters are holding things back. Most of the ambition came from developing countries, rather than the major polluters.
Before her speech at the UN climate summit, Thunberg met former US President Barack Obama, and joined a strike outside the gates of the White House, which included a silent 11-minute “lie-down” in recognition that there just 11 years remaining before that first 2030 deadline.
Earlier, at an event in Battery Park in Manhattan, she said, “We deserve a safe future. Is that too much to ask?”
Of course, you deserve a safe future, young people, but let’s see when the grown-ups wake up to the emergency.