Hong Kong students have urged the authorities to include youth representatives in environmental bodies, ahead of a school walkout on Friday to protest government inaction over climate change.

In a statement published on Wednesday, student organisers asked the government to establish youth representatives in the Steering Committee on Climate Change – an interdepartmental environmental action group – saying: “It could be a great advantage to have youth representation for climate change in Hong Kong as this would allow future generations to have a voice and more control over our collective future.”

: School Strike Hong Kon
Photo: School Strike Hong Kong for Climate Action‎/Roz Keep, via Facebook.

The march was inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who staged a school strike outside the parliament in Stockholm last August over climate change. Her campaign #FridaysForFuture has since inspired a global student-led movement encouraging young environmentalists to skip school on March 14 in demand of stronger government action against climate change. She has since been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Hong Kong students are set to march from Chater Garden in Central to the Central Government Offices in Admiralty from 11am to 2pm. Over 600 people had clicked “attending” on their Facebook event page by Thursday night.

‘Fear of missing out’

But the rally has been met with opposition from education authorities. The English Schools Foundation (ESF) said that it cannot endorse an action that threatens to compromise student safety.

“ESF students – at all levels – are encouraged to understand, analyse and tackle issues that affect their school, their community and their planet. While we support, in principle, any student who wishes to make a stand about climate change, we have to concern ourselves with our practical responsibility to keep safe the young men and women who have been entrusted into our care. We would not be meeting that responsibility if we allowed students to skip school to attend any unsupervised event,” an ESF spokesperson told HKFP.

air pollution
File photo: Citizen News.

The statement came after ESF’s West Island School, a private international coeducational in Pokfulam, told parents that any student absence on Friday would be registered as “unauthorised.”

“A rallying cry and the ‘fear of missing out’ has a powerful effect on young people. The combination of persuasive social media and a noteworthy subject will lead to different perspectives in our diverse community,” the letter from the principal, obtained by HKFP, said. “Our teachers are working on this day and will not be supervising any students who are given permission by their parents to attend.”

The principal added that students are encouraged to participate in environmental campaigns such as NGO WWF’s Earth Hour to conserve energy and turn off non-essential electric lights, as well as using reusable cutlery.

west island school hong kong
Photo: HKFP Screenshot/supplied.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights expressed support for the students on Wednesday, saying: “Children are citizens of our society, and they are entitled to speak their minds and express their views.”

The NGO called on government departments, the police, parents and teachers to establish dialogues with the students, respect their decision to join the action, and refrain from using punitive action against those who wish to attend.

Among their list of requests, students have asked the government to create a dedicated “Climate Action Officer” and commit to increasing the city’s reliance on renewable energy to more than three or four per cent, as outlined in Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2030+.

”Letter of requests from School Students for Climate Action – Click to view”

We speak on behalf of all the students, youth and adults who care about this issue in Hong Kong and who strike today. We echo the voice of our peers around the world in 92 countries who are also marching today in more than 1,200 locations.

We are grateful that in the first ‘Steering Committee Meeting on Climate Change’ in 2016, the Chief Executive explicitly identified the need to “formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies by 2020” and address the challenge as a “responsible member of the global community”. However, we do not feel that the currently planned actions to address climate change are sufficient or are being implemented with the necessary urgency.

Hong Kong is a wealthy city which is vulnerable to the many threats of climate change from stronger typhoons to rising sea levels and increased risk of disease. Cities, in general, are major contributors to climate change and they must all do their part to mitigate it.  

We urge you and the Government of HKSAR to do more than what is currently proposed in the 2030+ Climate Action Plan. We understand that you view this plan as sufficient for Hong Kong, however, for the safeguarding of our futures, we believe Hong Kong has the potential to do more.

We want you to be more ambitious in addressing this issue and to act with greater urgency.

Our futures are at stake. As such, we have 3 main requests which we would like you to oversee:

  1. Establish youth representatives within the Steering Committee on Climate Change in Hong Kong. It could be a great advantage to have youth representation for climate change in Hong Kong as this would allow future generations to have a voice and more control over our collective future.
  2. Increase Hong Kong’s reliance on renewable energy to more than 3-4% by 2030 – at least doubling this target. Possibilities for renewable energies could include solar panels or biomass.
  3. Create a department within the Environment Bureau where a group of people are explicitly charged with overseeing climate action, with the inclusion of a ‘Climate Action Officer.’ We believe that establishing such a role and group in charge will give climate change the attention it deserves and drive bigger climate initiatives.

Other protests are reportedly set to take place in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chaoyang, Taipei, and Taoyuan City.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.