Thousands of schoolchildren across the UK have walked out of class as part of a coordinated strike to protest about the global lack of action on climate change.
Youngsters in Brighton, Oxford, Bristol and Sheffield were among those in 60 towns and cities who downed textbooks to demand that adults do something about what they called a mounting ecological crisis.
More than 1,000 students also gathered at Parliament Square in London.
“We’re running out of time for meaningful change and that’s why we’re seeing young people around the world rising up to hold their governments to account on their dismal climate records,” said Anna Taylor, of the UK Student Climate Network, which coordinated the strikes. “Unless we take positive action, the future’s looking bleak for those of us that have grown up in an era defined by climate change.”
At one protest outside the Cambridgeshire County Council’s offices, a demonstrator led chants of “Whose future? Our future” and “Hey, ho, fossil fuels have got to go”.
Jasper Giles, a six-year-old pupil at University of Cambridge Primary School, attended the protest with his mother, Alissia Roberts.
She said: “I think it’s worth taking a day off school to show support for this movement, I think it’s really important and it will gather momentum.”
Ten-year-old Zachary Hird, a pupil at Cambridge’s Newnham Croft Primary School, was at the protest with his mother Diane Hird.
He said: “We don’t want climate change and people just have to change their ways as we don’t want the world as it is right now.
“We just want to make people aware of it. We were talking about it in our class so we just came along.”
Similar walkouts have previously been held in countries including Belgium and Australia, but it is thought this is the first ever nationally-coordinated strike, on any issue, by children in the UK.
Although the National Association of Head Teachers released a statement saying pupils should remain in class, many teachers appear to have offered some tacit backing to the initiative.
Earlier in the week, more than 200 university academics also declared their support, as did Christiana Figueres, who led the historic 2015 Paris agreement.
“It is a sign that we are failing in our responsibility to protect them [young people] from the worsening impacts of climate change,” she said.
But not everyone backed the action – including Theresa May, who suggested the walkouts were disruptive.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Everybody wants young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most so that we can build a brighter future for all of us.
“But it is important to emphasise that disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.”
It was criticism, however, that was contradicted by her own energy secretary, Claire Perry.
She told told BBC Radio 4: “I suspect if this was happening 40 years ago, I would be out there too. I’m incredibly proud of the young people in the UK who are highly educated about this issue and feel very strongly – quite rightly – that we do need to take action because it’s their generation that will bear the consequences.
“I do want to slightly caution that with the more official view that we can’t put any more burdens on our superb teachers and teaching staff. I do hope that anyone missing school today does get their work and their homework done.”
The activists are calling on the government to declare an ecological emergency, properly communicate the severity of the crisis and make the environment an educational priority in schools.
They also want recognition that young people have the biggest stake in the future and, as such, should be involved in policymaking. They want the voting age lowered to 16.
The latest UN report on climate changed, published in October, warned there were just 12 years left to avoid the worst effects of global warming, which it said would include record-breaking droughts and rising oceans.
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