Campaigners plan biggest-ever climate protest

16 September 2019

Climate emergency is expected to bring out one million

JONATHAN GUY/XR ELY

Members of Extinction Rebellion Ely held a “die-in” in the grounds of Ely Cathedral on Saturday

Members of Extinction Rebellion Ely held a “die-in” in the grounds of Ely Cathedral on Saturday

PUPILS and students striking on Friday for greater action on climate change are expected to be joined by more than one million people around the world, before a summit of world leaders hosted by the UN secretary-general, António Guterres.

More than 170 demonstrations have been planned in the UK, and more than 2500 in other parts of the world, making it the largest global climate-strike to date. Inspired by the actions of the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who sat outside the Swedish Parliament on Fridays to protest at the lack of action by her government, the movement has spread rapidly as scientific warnings have become starker.

A survey by Opinium commissioned by the UK Student Climate Network, which is co-ordinating the strikes in the UK, suggested that three-quarters of British people (74 per cent) believe that the recent climate protests and strikes had increased public awareness about climate change and the need to drive urgent action.

The strikers are calling for policies that would mean investment in green jobs as well as emissions reductions, and financial support for populations in climate-vulnerable countries. Jessica Ahmed, aged 16, of the UK Student Climate Network, said: “The Government’s failure to tackle climate change and implement effective policies can’t be ignored any more. Millions of people will be taking action globally, demanding change and policies that will protect our future, such as a Green New Deal.”

More than 80 organisations have written a statement of support, including Christian groups such as Arocha, Christian Aid, Tearfund, Operation Noah, and Green Christian. The statement says: “Climate breakdown and the destruction of the natural world is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. Such a challenge requires a solution equally great to meet it head-on.

“To emerge from the climate crisis requires bold thinking that moves beyond what has been previously thought possible and into what is necessary.”

Staff and supporters of USPG will also be joining the strike, followed by prayers at 4 p.m. with the Faith for the Climate Network. In an online statement, the charity said that: “For too long the fifth mark of mission, ‘to safeguard the integrity of creation and to renew and sustain life on earth’ has been seen by many in the UK as a peripheral issue.” It continues: “USPG looks to ensure that restoring and renewing relationships between God, people and the whole of creation is considered as we rethink mission.”

The Bishop of Salisbury and the C of E’s lead bishop on the environment, the Rt Revd Nick Holtam, said this week: “As Christians, we must commit to being good stewards of God’s creation, to care for the environment and to respond to the serious circumstances we face.

ReutersClimate-change protesters block the road leading to the Frankfurt Motor Show on Sunday

“The intent of so many councils and Parliament in declaring a climate emergency now needs following up with action. I am grateful for the care with which many students are preparing their action.

“Churches might invite schools to come and pray about the care of God’s creation — a good way of making use of the educational opportunities, keeping children safe, and honouring the spirit of the protest.”

One church building doing just that is Lichfield Cathedral, which is holding a climate-action day for hundreds of pupils from across the Midlands. The Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Revd Clive Gregory, said: “Young people are leading the way, and, as a Church, we stand in solidarity with them, working for justice as people of hope. We want churches, schools, and others in our diocese to campaign for the big system-changes urgently needed, including an end to the age of fossil fuels and climate justice for all.”

Hitherto the school strikes have been restricted to pupils and students. Now, adults with join them on the streets. More than 1000 businesses, including Ben & Jerry’s, the Patagonia clothing company, and Lush cosmetics have signed up to support the strike by closing offices and shops for part of the day. At firms that have not sanctioned time off, some people will be striking for real: more 1000 Amazon staff are planning to walk out in protest at the company’s slow response to the climate crisis.

A spokesperson for the Archbishops’ Council told Responsible Investor that the Church of England would encourage line managers to be “sympathetic towards any individual staff requests to use a half-day’s leave or accumulated flexi-leave for this purpose”.

One of the biggest public gatherings is planned for New York, where world leaders meet next Monday to approve plans for the improved reduction of emissions, as well as offering support for poorer countries, as part of their national commitments made under the Paris Agreement, which requires countries to strengthen their actions every five years.

The international nature of the changing climate has been reflected in a study by YouGov which surveyed 30,000 people in 28 countries. In every country, a majority agreed that the climate was changing and human activity was mainly or partly responsible.

This view was backed in growing economies in the developing world such as India (94 per cent), and China (93 per cent), as well as richer historical polluters such as Australia (87 per cent), the United States (75 per cent), and Britain (88 per cent).

A majority also thought that it was still possible to avoid the worst of climate change if drastic action was taken: something that 66 per cent of British people agreed with.

There was a noticeable divide between East and West, however, when asked how they thought that climate change would have an impact on the respondents’ personal lives. Less than 49 per cent of people in the Nordic countries of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark thought that they would suffer. The figure was 94 per cent in the Philippines: three-quarters (75 per cent) of Filipinos said that climate change would affect their lives “a great deal”.

PACeara Carney and Louis Heath of Extinction Rebellion Ireland staged a protest in Kilney Bay, Dublin, on Sunday

One Filipino on strike on Friday is a 19-year-old student, Glory Dumaguin, a survivor of Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6000 people in 2013. Ms Dumaguin and her family took refuge in their church after the roof was blown off their house. She said: “On the next day after the typhoon, we went back to our house, but we were shocked that everything was destroyed, and even our clothes were blown away by the wind.

“We had nothing because we are not prepared. It was a depressing life for us on the island. My message for the world is that we need to be responsible and should be concerned about protecting our environment, because God created this for us. God gave us wisdom, and we know what is right and wrong. . .

“When I heard about Greta Thunberg, I felt that it is really important for us young people to be involved in the climate fight.”

Climate-change campaigners from Extinction Rebellion will be returning to the streets on 7 October for a period of non-violent direct action around Westminster. Among the activities planned is a bridge occupation by faith communities, to be co-ordinated by Christian Climate Action.

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