Climate strikers swept through the heart of New York’s financial district on Friday as large-scale demonstrations returned to global streets just weeks away from the consequential Cop26 summit.
Environmental activists, most of them children, teenagers and young people, came together in lower Manhattan, and at rallies around the world, to once again demand that world leaders take meaningful, urgent action on the climate crisis.
Scientists warn that extreme events around the world – deadly heatwaves, wildfires, floods and storms – will worsen if nations fail to turn the tide on still-rising greenhouse gas emissions, largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels.
The New York protest began at 3pm at City Hall Park and made its way down Broadway to Battery Park, behind a large banner which read “Uproot The System”. Using megaphones to project chants, protesters called out, “Wall Street? Our street”; “Stand up fight back”; and “This is what democracy looks like.”
At the park, speakers included Takota Iron Eyes, a youth activist from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, where the community continues to battle the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and Jamie Margolin, from the movement, This is Zero Hour.
“The fossil fuel companies have blood on their hands,” Ms Margolin told the hundreds who had gathered.
She called out politicians that were guilty not of inaction, she said, but “active destruction”.
“Joe Biden and everyone in office if you actually care like you say you do, end fossil fuel subsidies now,” she said, to raucous cheering and applause.
Thousands came on to the streets in more than 1,400 places across the world, from Europe to the US to sub-Saharan Africa.
Today’s strikes come three years after Swedish activist Greta Thunberg began skipping school on Fridays to protest outside the country’s parliament buildings. Ms Thunberg, who started Fridays For Future, joined a protest in Berlin, two days before the German election in which climate change has been a major topic. The issue has also topped the agenda in Iceland which heads to the polls for general elections on Saturday.
In New York City, activists told The Independent that large-scale, public demonstrations were necessary to drive meaningful change.
“I think the only way we are going to get out this mess is if we are able to push the political system in a better direction,” said Bill Beckler, a New Yorker who joined the march with his son Solomon and was handing out fliers for Extinction Rebellion NYC.
“The only way to do that is to treat this like an emergency. The usual mechanisms for political change have proven themselves to be incapable of making that change. Going to the streets is one of the only things we have left.”
Another protester, Miriam, 27, from Ecuador, carried a hand-drawn poster of the Indigenous Waorani activist Nemonte Nenquimo, and said that she had come to support young people.
“They are getting hurt and there’s no future on a dying planet,” she said. “It’s important for us to connect with one another to figure out solutions to serve our common ground.”
New Yorkers and friends Martina Posmentier, 16, and 15-year-old Cole Roberts came to the protest together with placards.
“Being physically here shows that there is representation, that we do care and we demand change now,” said Posmentier.
“We are the future, we’re the ones going to have to be deal with this in 20-30 years. I’m only 15, I’m going to be here for such a long time,” Roberts added.
“Being online is amazing but being in person is totally different. You need the energy, we want to be heard and we want to be loud.”
The New York area has recently suffered from devastating flooding which left dozens of people dead. The floods came after historic rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. The climate crisis is making tropical storm systems more powerful and unpredictable, scientists say.
Posmentier said: “I think people are just in denial. The facts are right in front of them, they just refuse to believe them. We are here trying to show them that it’s happening.”
The global protest movement was forced to shift online due to the Covid pandemic which halted public gatherings. The return to large protests comes just weeks before the Cop26 climate summit where world leaders will meet in Glasgow, Scotland in a bid to drive down global carbon emissions. More protests are expected throughout the two-week event.
A key demand of the youth climate movement is for rich countries to “drastically” divest from fossil fuels and to end their “extraction, burning, and use”.
In 2019, about 84 per cent of global primary energy came from the fossil fuels coal, oil and gas. And a recent landmark report from the UN’s climate authority made it clear that burning fossil fuels is already driving climate extremes in every region.
Another key demand of youth strikers is for leaders to recognise climate inequalities, and for developed countries to make good on their promise of $100bn a year to developing nations, to help them tackle and adapt to rising emissions. The pledge was first made in 2009 and countries were due to come up with the cash by 2020 – but have still fallen short of the target.
Speaking on Monday, Ms Thunberg said that wealthy nations’ failure to deliver on promised funding “just doesn’t make sense”.
“How can countries like mine expect other countries to take climate action if we, who are very much more historically responsible per capita than other countries, ignore it?” she said.