Thousands of Australian students on Friday protested to demand investment in renewable-energy projects, though COVID-19 restrictions confined the events to small gatherings and online activism.
About 500 protests were held across Australia, with other demonstrations expected worldwide as part of the “Fridays for Future” movement that was made famous by Swedish student Greta Thunberg.
In Sydney, gatherings were limited to no more than 20 people, while in Melbourne, which is under a stringent lockdown after a second wave of COVID-19, protests were held online.
Those who could protest in person carried signs and gave voice to their message alongside climate advocates.
“Their future is on the line,” Gillian Reffell, a Sydney resident, told Reuters. “We want to see our governments fund children’s futures, renewable jobs and not gas.”
Australian school student Ambrose Hayes, 15, rode on a protest barge in Sydney Harbour holding a huge yellow banner demanding “No Gas” as part of a global climate rally calling for greater action from world leaders.
“I am here because I am fed up with the Australian government’s inaction on the climate crisis. We need to act now before it’s too late,” climate activist Hayes told Reuters TV.
Hayes is one of eight students who have launched a class action to stop the environment minister approving an expansion of a coal mine arguing it will endanger their futures.
The students argue the Environment Minister Susan Ley has a duty of care to protect them from climate change and the expansion of Whitehaven Coal’s Vickery coal mine in New South Wales will contribute to climate change and endanger their future.
“If we don’t take action now we’re going to face more intense droughts, more intense fires... these are just going to happen more and more and we’re not going to stop it if we don’t take action now,” Hayes said.
Less than two years ago, Hayes was at school frustrated by what he perceived as inaction to lower carbon emissions. Now, he is a leading climate activist in Australia.
“I shouldn’t have to be doing this. I should be a ‘normal kid’ going to school and not having to worry about this. But the government has left us no choice. The last generations have left us not choice. We need to stand up,” Hayes told Reuters.
Climate change has been a divisive topic in Australia, one of the world’s largest per capita carbon emitters. The country’s conservative government has won successive elections on a platform of supporting Australia’s dominant fossil fuel sectors.
But massive bushfires earlier this year, which experts said were stoked by a drought exacerbated by climate change, have elevated climate change as an issue for many, especially with fires expected in a few months when Australia’s summer returns.
About 300,000 Australian school children and climate activist last year took to the streets demanding urgent action to lower carbon emissions, protests criticised by several senior Australian government ministers.