Thousands of school children and higher education students across the UK have taken part in a walkout over institutional inaction over climate change.
According to Youth Strike 4 Climate organisers strikes were planned to take place in over 50 towns and cities. Youth Strike 4 Climate organisers have cited “an alarming lack of Government leadership” for the walkout, which was set to take place at 11am.
Fort William, Bristol, Manchester, Southampton, Bournemouth and Norwich are among the UK cities that will see protests today. Some school leaders have warned students not to miss lessons to take part in the strikes.
‘Act as if the house is on fire’
The movement was sparked by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg who leaves school every Friday to protest outside the Swedish Parliament over the generation-defining topic.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, she warned world leaders act as if the “house was on fire. Because it is”.
Scottish thirteen-year-old Holly Gillibrand has been striking in her local area since January, utilising social media to spread word of the cause.
Speaking to The Times, The Lochaber High School pupil said: “We are not impressed by our leaders’ inability to treat the climate and ecological crisis as the crisis it is, and people’s aversion to the action that is needed to limit catastrophic climate and ecological breakdown is depressing.”
Revealing her motivation for taking part in the strike, she stated: “I have loved the environment and nature since I can remember and this has just grown into a passion to protect and conserve the natural world. I got involved with the strike when I first went on to social media and learnt about what Greta Thunberg was doing.
“When I saw the speech she made at the record-breaking climate march in Helsinki, I thought that was something that I could do too.”
Youth strikes have already taken place across Europe, from Berlin to Brussels. The youth strikes come months after a UN report which warned that unprecedented action was required in order to limit global temperature rises from creeping over 1.5C.
The UN report recommended cutting global CO2 emission by nearly half by 2030. UK students leading the strike have called for the government to declare a climate emergency and take significant steps to prevent potentially catastrophic climate impacts.
They have also demanded that young people deserve a bigger stake in the future, with calls for the voting age to be lowered to 16.
‘We’re running out of time’
Anna Taylor, of UK Student Climate Network, said: “We’re running out of time for meaningful change, and that’s why we’re seeing young people around the world rising up to hold their governments to account on their dismal climate records.
“Unless we take positive action, the future’s looking bleak for those of us that have grown up in an era defined by climate change.
“We’ve had enough, and we’re making sure our voice is heard. “We’re ready to let politicians know we won’t accept anything less than a commitment to protect the planet for the good of everyone.”
Rebecca Petford, EAUC (Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges) Scotland Programme Manager, praised students for their stance.
She said: “As the alliance for sustainability leadership in tertiary education, the EAUC are excited to today see students from the UK’s universities and colleges joining the Strikes for Climate movement, and adding their voices to the call from school children and academics for more action on climate change and sustainability at both the governmental and institutional level.”
Petford added: “EAUC hope that the expansion of this call for action from just the passionate and talented staff we support within our Member organisations to the wider student body will raise awareness of the importance of this issue, and encourage institutions to give more priority to addressing the sustainability challenges facing their institution, our county, and the wider world.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), revealed that concerned head teachers have been told “to agree and communicate a strategy for the day, taking into consideration the safety and well-being of pupils and the school’s attendance policies.”
He added that schools would use their professional judgment in deciding the most appropriate approach.
Mr Barton also said that while ASCL did not support pupils missing school to join the protests, it supported the cause and the “determination of these young people to protect the planet better than our generation has managed is inspiring”.