Thousands of people protested across Australia’s cities on Friday as part of a school strike, demanding the Australian government commit to real climate action and a net-zero emissions target by 2050.
In Perth city, hundreds of people gathered outside Parliament House in the hot midday sun and listened to speeches by student organisers and First Nations activists.
The group later marched down Malcolm St and St Georges Terrace with a police escort and held a 10-minute sit-down at the intersection of William St, stopping traffic and delaying bus-routes.
Organised by a group of teenagers, the strike drew in young and old with home-made signs showing their fury at Australia’s position on climate policy.
High school student and key organiser of the strike, Zing O’Flynn, said his group had “critically important” reasons for leaving school that day.
“We’re here to tell the government that we are no longer going to stand for their inactive climate policies, and that when we turn 18 we will not hesitate to vote them out if they are not active with our future consideration,” Zing said.
The strikers’ official demands included that the government commit to putting a stop to new coal, oil and gas projects, to pursuing 100% renewable energy and exports by 2030, and to fund a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and their communities.
High school student Imogen said: “We’re going to be voting soon. We’re the people who are going to be running the place when we’re older. It’s good to get involved and active with this kind of stuff.
“Nothing will change if we’re just at school still, so we have to come to these sorts of things and actually try and hear what everybody has to say about it.”
The strikers also hoped to gain the attention of WA’s minister for climate action, Amber-Jade Sanderson, who recently signed off on a new Woodside project to extract gas and install a 430km pipeline in the Scarborough gas field in waters north of the state.
Ms Sanderson said the McGowan Government was committed to transitioning the WA economy to net-zero emissions by 2050, although she did not comment on the strikers’ demands for a 2030 target.
When asked about the Scarborough project, Ms Sanderson refused to address the topic but told Vanguard News the state government was taking meaningful action on climate change.
“We are also developing interim targets, sectoral emissions reductions strategies, and consulting on legislation as key priorities, with further announcements on these measures to be made soon,” she said.
The school strike follows on the wave of a movement inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish school student who began striking from school for climate four years ago, at the age of 15.
School students, Imogen, Sienna and Nadia said their school was one of many who sent out emails earlier in the week, warning students would be penalised for their striking action.
“They say that they’re not politicising their students, but by telling them not to go, they are politicising them,” Imogen said.
The strike came just weeks ahead of the COP-26 summit, a meeting between world leaders to negotiate more ambitious climate targets, planned to go ahead at the end of October in Glasgow.
For weeks Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to confirm whether he would be attending the summit, and only announced that he would go on the day of the school strike.
His weeks of indecision leading up to this announcement garnered attention from not only the opposition, but the likes of Prince Charles and the Queen who made disapproving comments in recent interviews.
The long period of uncertainty leading up to this decision were a key concern for the strikers.
“It’s very frustrating. He definitely needs to go there [the summit]. That is something we absolutely want,” Zing said.
“We have bushfires, we have floods, we have droughts, and our future is in jeopardy and the present climate conditions are getting worse. We need [global warming] to be slowed down and that is why net-zero emissions will help that because fossil fuels drive that further and further on.”
More than 100 nations and every Australian state and territory has committed to net-zero by 2050, while the coalition government remains in talks over making the decision.
Parties at the COP26 summit will aim to improve these targets even further, with ambitious 2030 targets the new point of discussion.
“The COP26 Summit is one of the most important international meetings we have seen in the past decade and our Prime Minister’s hesitancy to attend this event is deeply troubling,” Ms Sanderson said.
The striking students had little faith in Scott Morrison, recalling his previous leadership failures.
“I’m just hoping he doesn’t fly to Hawaii again,” high school student, Sienna said.