Thousands of people in the UK joined the Global Climate Strike today, taking to the streets of cities including London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, Brighton, Newcastle, Bournemouth and Birmingham to call for ‘climate justice’. The protests are taking place ahead of the environmental summit to be held at the United Nations in New York on Monday.
The marchers in the UK followed in the footsteps of those around the world. As night now falls in the east, it ends a day in which a reported 300,000 people rallied across Australia, with other protests held in Japan, India and the Solomon Islands also drawing huge crowds. In total, 150 countries are reported to have staged, or be staging protests, with large marches reported in countries including Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Bangladesh, the US, Cyprus, the Ukraine, the Netherlands and Germany.
The Global Climate Strike was organised via a central website, with organisers planning two strikes – the second is due to be held on 27 September. The choice of Friday for the strikes echoes campaigner Greta Thunberg’s FridaysForFuture movement which has seen thousands of students miss school to protest against the climate crisis and inaction by governments around the world.
In London today the mood was vibrant and upbeat. Joining the children and young people who stand at the forefront of this movement were a large number of adults from many walks of life. Universities, charities, companies, political groups and campaign groups were all present, waving banners of huge variety and often ingenuity. Some trade unions, including the TUC, the University and College Union and Unite have said they are supporting members who take part in the strikes.
Outside parliament young protestors stood on the barriers waving banners declaring ‘We’ll go to school when the Earth is cool’ and chanting: ‘What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!’ Meanwhile, hundreds of others filled Millbank, bringing the crowd to a standstill and feeding off the energy pumped out by a loudspeaker.
One of the most powerful voices belonged to Bruna, a Bolivian campaigner from the group Action for Bolivia. Like many others at the protest she had a specific campaign in mind – to encourage international pressure to be placed on the Bolivian government in order to force it to declare a national emergency in the wake of record fires in the Amazon Rainforest.
Sitting at the side of the road after her speech, she explained the cause: ‘What we’re asking is for the president to declare a national disaster in Bolivia, so that international help can come into the country. We are the echo of the Amazon here in Europe, because it’s so hard for the information to get across. We are trying to do that with the voice of our people and our country here. We are Bolivians, we are Amazon children. I grew up in the Amazon and seeing my country burned down is horrible. I was in Bolivia four weeks ago and not even the media there were speaking about it, so how are the media here going to speak about it? And when I flew back, the most beautiful thing you see when you are taking off is the scenery, with the Amazon behind you. But this time I saw fire, desolation, death.’
Other campaign groups congregated on the grass of Victoria Tower Gardens. Among the big campaign organisations were smaller groups including Fuel Poverty Action, a group working at the intersection of environmental justice and social justice. There, campaigner Tilly held up the group’s banner calling for the replacement of safe cladding in social housing blocks, following in the wake of the Grenfell fire. They joined other groups on the green such as Help Refugees, The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Care4Calais.
All along the route people were keen to make their professions known. Groups of doctors from the NHS, theatre and art gallery workers, writers and women in tech all declared themselves for the cause. ‘What’s the point of training up young women in the STEM Fields if there’s no future for them,’ questioned one woman who said she worked for a large tech organisation. NHS staff pointed to the link between climate change and public health highlighted by the World Health Organisation, whose website states that: ‘Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone. The direct damage costs to health is estimated to be between $2 to 4billion per year by 2030.’
There were a few instances of confrontation with the police – including a particularly heated exchange about the legality of drawing on the ground with chalk. The Metropolitan Police has said two people have been arrested for breaching conditions imposed on the protesters, which dictate they must gather in a specific place in Westminster.
The rest of the march however was peaceful and lively. As the day went on the young students began to take centre stage, making their voices heard with chants and calls and drawing attention from the photographers. Fitting as this felt like their fight most of all.
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