Children urged to strike against lack of action on climate emergency

Schoolchildren around the world are being urged to go on strike to protest against a lack of action on the climate crisis.

Children and their supporters are invited to take to the streets on Friday, if it is safe to do so, or to go online with their protests “in whatever way suits you best”, according to the organisers.

This will be the first such action since the coronavirus pandemic struck. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish school strike pioneer and activist, said: “Extreme weather driven by the climate crisis is accelerating around the world, and yet we still don’t treat it as a crisis. We are in a global emergency that affects all of us. However, not everyone is suffering its consequences equally.”

The protests will focus on Mapa, a new term for “most affected people and areas”, which the organisers prefer to older phrases such as “the global south”. Protesters are asked to make the Mapa signal, which is two closed fists pressed together with thumbs up, symbolising strength, solidarity and hope.

As extreme weather rips across swathes of the globe, including wildfires along the west coast of the US and the most active hurricane season in decades forecast for the Caribbean, the protesters want to contrast the plight of the most vulnerable with the lack of political commitment on the climate, and the rebound in greenhouse gas emissions as many developed economies return to high growth of CO2 emissions.

“We live in the midst of a pandemic, but climate change is just as much of a crisis as it was before,” said Fridays for Future, the youth movement sparked by Thunberg’s school strikes, in a statement. “As society is starting to open up in many places in the world, global emissions and resource use is rapidly increasing and we are running out of time … This is not a time to be silent.”

Friday’s day of action will come a year on from a global week of protest last September in which it is estimated that more than 6 million people took part. It also comes as schools around the world reopen after the disruptions of lockdown, at the start of the new academic year in the northern hemisphere.

The strikes will take place as the UN marks its 75th anniversary with a muted general assembly, which will be mostly online for the first time. Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, will make climate breakdown a key focus and call for a green economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, will use his speech to set out the UK’s plans to host the next UN climate summit, called Cop26, in Glasgow next year. The talks were scheduled for this November but have been postponed for a year because of the coronavirus crisis.

At Cop26, world leaders will be expected to put forward strengthened national plans on cutting CO2 emissions, as current commitments under the Paris agreement are too weak to hold global heating to well below 2C (a rise of 3.6F) as the treaty demands. Despite the plunge in emissions as lockdowns were imposed around the world this spring, the rebound now taking place will cancel out any beneficial impact, and stronger policies are needed to make the structural changes necessary to effect permanently lower emissions. Cop26 is seen as one of the last chances to put the world on track to fulfil the Paris accord.

The UK has said little publicly on the Cop26 talks, apart from to postpone them, since the launch of Britain’s presidency in February. Green campaigners have grown increasingly concerned at the lack of public engagement, though insiders are keen to point out that meetings of Cop26 officials are continuing behind the scenes.

Prince Charles will call on Monday, before the start of the high-level segment of the general assembly on Tuesday, for a greater sense of urgency among world political and business leaders. He wants the lessons of the coronavirus crisis to be used to “reset” the global economy, shifting from a high to a low CO2 footing.

The prince will say: “Without swift and immediate action, at an unprecedented pace and scale, we will miss the window of opportunity to reset for … a more sustainable and inclusive future.

“In other words, the global pandemic is a wake-up call we cannot ignore. [The environmental crisis] has been with us for far too many years – decried, denigrated and denied. It is now rapidly becoming a comprehensive catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Johnson is expected to say that the UK will stop funding the development of fossil fuels abroad, as his government’s continued funding for overseas oil and gas exploration has become a source of increasing conflict with campaigners. Campaigners are concerned, however, that loopholes and exemptions will diminish the impact.

The prime minister is also likely to refer to a new green infrastructure bank for the UK, to take up from the Green Investment Bank sold off by the Conservative government in 2017.

Johnson is also under pressure to bring forward the phase-out of diesel and petrol vehicles by five years from 2035 to 2030, a target now supported by Labour and green groups. His announcement of the 2035 target, itself an improvement on Theresa May’s phase-out year of 2040, was intended as the centrepiece of the government’s launch of Cop26 in February, but was overshadowed by the last-minute sacking of his top Cop26 official.

Alok Sharma, the UK’s business secretary and Cop26 president, will announce on Monday that Facebook, the car manufacturer Ford and the world’s biggest cement company, LafargeHolcim, are joining more than 1,100 businesses and more than 450 cities in the Race to Zero campaign for a world with no CO2 emissions. He will also inaugurate a new Cop26 energy transition council, bringing together politicians, investors and technical experts to foster the growth of clean energy around the world, and GBP50m funding for clean energy innovation in developing countries.

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