Australian schoolchildren cut class to renew climate protest
At events from Perth to Brisbane, protestors urged the conservative government to do more to tackle climate change, which is already hitting Australia hard.
The vast island-continent is one of the world’s largest producers of coal and natural gas, but has also suffered under extreme climate-change-worsening droughts, floods and bushfires in recent years.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week swatted aside the International Energy Agency’s warning that key emissions targets will be missed if more fossil fuel projects are built.
His government on Tuesday announced hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers money will be used to construct a new gas-fired power station near Sydney.
The facility will be built in the picturesque Hunter Valley, where residents go to the polls in a state by-election on Saturday.
“The Morrison government could be protecting our climate, land and water, and creating thousands of new jobs by growing Australia’s renewable energy sector” said 17-year-old Nabilah Chowdhury, who protested in Sydney.
“Instead, they are lining the pockets of multinational gas companies, which are fuelling the climate crisis.”
In Melbourne, where about 5,000 people gathered, protestors held placards reading “Coal is history” and “Fund our future”.
The government claims the Hunter Valley gas power plant is needed to keep electricity prices down. Critics say it is a costly political boondoggle.
“It’s going to bring with it some 600 new jobs during peak construction there and 1,200 indirect jobs across the state,” said Morrison. “Importantly, it’s going to keep the pressure down on electricity prices across New South Wales.”
Despite protests, Morrison faces little domestic political pressure to change his climate policies. The opposition Labor Party also backs coal mining and coal power plants.
But Australia is coming under increasing international pressure on to follow other developed economies and set a target date for becoming carbon-neutral.
So far Morrison has refused, but diplomatic pressure is building ahead of a major international climate summit in Glasgow later this year.
Friday’s protests, which organisers said took place in 50 locations, were the latest in a series of strikes inspired by environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg.
The 18-year-old Swedish activist began campaigning for action on climate change in 2018, spending Fridays sitting outside the Swedish parliament with a sign reading “School Strike for the Climate”.
Thunberg tweeted her support for the Australian strikes on Friday. “Huge climate strikes today across Australia,” she said. “Soon the rest of the world will join in…”