Hundreds of young environmentalists skipped school on Friday to urge Hong Kong authorities to take stronger action over climate change.
Activists marched from Chater Garden in Central to the government headquarters in Admiralty wielding signs saying “Raise your voice, not the sea level” and “There is no planet B.” Some participants wore animal costumes to highlight the danger global warming poses to vulnerable species, and others chanted slogans such as “Earth does not belong to us, we belong to earth.”
The rally was part of an international day of protest inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg who staged a school strike outside the parliament in Stockholm last August over climate change. She has since been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Similar protests under the hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #SchoolStrike4Climate were also held in over 100 countries including the cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chaoyang, Taipei, and Taoyuan City.
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, as well as 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+.
Seventeen-year-old Haruka Cheung, who co-organised the event, told HKFP that student delegates are essential to represent the views of those who are too young to vote yet.
She added that representatives should be elected each term to ensure the role is not disruptive to their studies.
When asked about what role a “Climate Action Officer” would service, Cheung said: “We think because, at the moment, the environmental group is one big amalgamation of all the responsibilities of Hong Kong. There needs to be an appointment of one specific council or person for climate change.”
“We want them to be responsible for mitigating the detrimental effects of climate change and for making sure Hong Kong follows alongside the Paris agreement.”
Christina Sternby, 16, told HKFP that students had to miss school in order to get the attention of authorities.
“If it was allowed it wouldn’t have been so impactful,” she said. “It’s about showing how many people care. We’re going to be adults in the working place in a few years and we’re the ones who want change.”
“Hong Kong kind of brushes the issue [of climate change] aside,” added 15-year-old Kylie Chong. “It’s such a disregarded problem and it’s so severe.”
“We’re the next generation and we’re going to have to clean up the mess.”
Amandine Fischer, 17, told HKFP that despite opposition from her school administration her teachers are supportive of the march. “They actually encouraged us to go even if they’re not allowed to tell us that,” she said.
Fischer, who skipped a maths test to attend the protest, said that the environment should take priority and dismissed safety concerns from schools, adding: “Climate change is dangerous as well and it’s going to affect more people. The police are here so it’s not as dangerous as they think.”
The march was attended by several environmental NGOs as a show of support.
“Our future generation will be the victims of climate threats if we do nothing,” Mei Ng, chairperson of Friends of the Earth Hong Kong, told HKFP. “All over the world the inertia and the inaction over the decision to tackle climate change is unacceptable and unethical.”
Ng added that Friends of the Earth is pushing local authorities to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent in 30 years and increase the city’s renewable energy usage by 10 per cent in 10 years.
“I remember this saying, ‘we did not inherit the earth, we are borrowing it from our children.’ It’s for our children, we need to do something before it’s too late,” Ng added.
Frances Yeung, a senior campaigner for Greenpeace, told HKFP that her organisation came to support the student movement. “We are very happy to see young people care about the environment and they are brave enough to come out,” she said. “We’re here today to support them. The future belongs to them.”
Organisers said around 800-1,000 protesters took part.
Activists and students – mostly from international and English Schools Foundation (ESF) schools – arrived at government headquarters at lunchtime to present a letter to the authorities.
A spokesperson for ESF told HKFP that although they support the principle of the action, they cannot consent to it: “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,” they said.
HKFP has contacted the government for comment.