Millions expected to make Friday climate protest the largest in history

Young people hailed for setting example as they prepare to be joined by parents, workers, trade unions, businesses and organisations

School strike for climate action in Melbourne (Photo: Julian Meehan/CC)


Millions of people across the world are expected to take to the streets on Friday demanding their governments take greater climate action, in what is anticipated to be the largest climate protest in history.

On the eve of the UN’s climate action summit, record numbers of youth climate campaigners are due to be joined by parents, workers, trade unions, businesses and organisations in a global strike ramping up pressure on political leaders to respond to the climate crisis.

More than 2,500 strikes are being planned across 117 countries on Friday, with picket lines and marches anticipated from Russia to Johannesburg and Turkey to New Delhi.

One of the largest demonstrations is to take place in New York, where UN secretary general António Guterres has convened world leaders to, as he put it, “put climate action into higher gear” over a three-day summit starting on Saturday.

What is the UN climate action summit?

The summit has been billed as a critical moment for political leaders to show their willingness to increase their climate plans, in a bid to bridge the ambition gap to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C – the tougher goal of the Paris Agreement demanded by vulnerable countries and backed by Guterres.

On Monday, climate campaigners in Washington are expected to bring the city to a standstill in protest to the lack of action of Donald Trump’s administration.

The strike is modelled on Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s own weekly protests, demanding her government take action commensurate to the findings of the science and a landmark report on 1.5C.

The ‘Fridays For Future’ movement she inspired has dramatically increased public pressure on governments to listen to people’s demands for more ambition climate action.

‘This movement is saving my life’: climate strikers on their year of protest

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Guterres said the leadership and initiative showed by youth around the world was “remarkable”.

“The youth has been showing an enormous leadership, and I hope that that leadership will have a very strong impact on the societies as a whole, on their families and, based on that, on their governments of their countries,” he said.

Young people are due to play a key role throughout the high-level meeting, starting with a youth summit on Saturday.

Of governments that were not taking action, Alexandria Villaseñor, co-founder of US Youth Climate Strike and founder of Earth Uprising, said on Thursday: “They can listen to us now, or they can listen to us later… because our voice is going to continue getting louder as the climate crisis gets more urgent.”

More than 100 countries applied for UN climate summit, half were rejected

“The audacity of simply asking for leaders to lead is extraordinary and we are indebted to young people the world over for pushing us to this place,” Guterres’ special representative for sustainable energy Rachel Kyte told journalists on Thursday.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio backed Friday’s strike, with state-run school students in the city to be excused for participating if they have parental consent.

The strike has also been supported by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which boasts 200 million members globally.

“Your standing up to governments, demanding action around climate has in fact been a game-changer,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, addressing the youth. “The solidarity of the trade union movement globally is behind you.”

Dozens of trade unions globally have echoed their support for the strike, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Irish union Fórsa, the South African Federation of Trade Unions and the UK’s Trade Union Congress, which is calling for employers to grant workers a 30-minute workday action.

The UK is also preparing for its largest climate protest yet, with hundreds of thousands of people expected to join more than 200 events on Friday.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “The school strikers have led the way in waking the world’s leaders up to the climate crisis,” which he said has “shown people power can move governments”. “It’s time for the rest of us to stand with them in solidarity,” he added.

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Big tech could also play its role, with employees at Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft expected to participate in the strike.

In total, more than 4,600 strikes are registered in cities around the world on both Friday and 27 September, with and 1,240 actions being planned in Europe alone.

Read more on: Activism and campaigning | Climate justice | UN Climate Action Summit 2019