By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – United under Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, young people rallied across the world on Friday to demand urgent action to halt catastrophic climate change, in their first global action during the coronavirus pandemic.
With wild weather wreaking havoc across the world – from fires ravaging the U.S. West, to abnormal heatwaves in the Siberian Arctic and record floods in China – organisers said the protests would remind politicians that while the world was focused on COVID-19, the climate crisis has not gone away.
Demonstrations were planned in more than 3,100 locations, with Australia, Japan and Fiji among the first to kick off – though with pandemic-related curbs limiting the size of gatherings, much of the action shifted online.
In Stockholm, Thunberg and a handful of members of her group, Fridays for Future, assembled outside parliament.
She said in a tweet on Thursday that the strikers will “be back next week, next month and next year. For as long as it takes.”
Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a 22-year-old Fridays for Future activist in the Philippines, said her government was failing to protect people from both the climate and COVID-19 crises.
“With the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve really been forced to see how disproportionate the impacts of any crisis is,” she said.
“They are still prioritising the rich over the poor, they are still not listening to the science.”
In Australia, thousands of students took part in about 500 small gatherings and online protests, to demand investment in renewable energy and oppose funding for gas projects.
Organisers were asking people to post pictures on social media and join a 24-hour global Zoom call, while those taking to the streets were to follow local guidelines on the size of gatherings and social distancing.
The demonstrations come a year after two mammoth global strikes saw more than six million people pour onto the streets, in what organisers said was the biggest climate mobilisation in history.
Friday’s demonstrations will focus on solidarity with “most affected people and regions” – communities that have contributed little to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but who are on the frontlines of devastating climate threats like floods, rising seas and locust invasions.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by John Stonestreet)