“Climate justice now! If we don’t get it, shut it down!”
On the waning days of the hottest northern hemisphere summer on record, several hundred children and young people carrying homemade signs marched, chanting, to the UN headquarters in New York.
“We are unstoppable! A better world is possible!”
Two days earlier, 16 year old climate activist, Greta Thunberg had sailed into New York harbour on the racing yacht Malizia II. Starting from the English port of Plymouth, she had chosen two rough weeks at sea over flying.
Children of all ages came to the strike carrying signs made of torn cardboard, cereal packets, blackboards and even paper bags. Some rode on their parent’s shoulders. All the messages voiced their anger and despair.
“We deserve a future.”
“Help. My house is on fire.”
“We want our hopes and dreams back.”
“I’m scared that all of us won’t live if we don’t stop polluting the planet.”
Greta carried her customary sign, Skolstrejk för Klimatet (School Strike for Climate) which had travelled across the ocean with her.
The protestors made for Dag Hammarskjold Park where they listened to speeches, and then observed several minutes of silence.
In the past year, Greta, who began striking outside the Swedish parliament on Fridays, has galvanized an international youth movement in support of the Paris Agreement to keep global warming at 1.5C above what it was when the industrial era began.
She launched the FridaysForFuture movement, which is rapidly expanding to all corners of the globe.
Young people have been leaving their classrooms to strike in protest at the lack of adult action on climate change.
Greta is in New York because she has been invited by the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, to attend the UN Climate Action Summit in late September.
“My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry,” he said.
At the Social Good Summit, which will also be held in September, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner has promised a platform for young people to have their voices heard.
“Youth leaders are rightfully impatient for leadership on climate change and are taking charge of their own future,” he said.
Greta was welcomed in New York by climate activist Alexandria Villaseñor, 14, who, inspired by her Swedish friend, has been striking outside UNHQ every Friday since December.
She and other youth leaders are organizing an international climate strike, scheduled for September 20. It will be followed by a week of action to demand concrete plans to transition to sustainable economies.
“One of the things that’s so powerful about the youth movement is that a lot of us think outside the structure and the system that adults have created,” Alexandria said.
Photos by UNDP/Sumaya Agha