Environment / Climate

Students skip school for climate change strike

17:07 pm on 24 May 2019

The second round of climate change strikes have been taking place today with thousands of school and tertiary students around Aotearoa skipping classes to take part.

School strikes were planned in 24 locations around the country after the first strike in March ended early because of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

The student organisers of the 15 March strikes want the government to declare a national climate emergency and say the Zero Carbon Bill does not go far enough.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she's proud of New Zealand's response to climate change, even though the student protesters are calling on the government to do more.

She said the Zero Carbon Bill puts into action many of New Zealand's international obligations.

"Ultimately though we will only achieve that goal if everyone globally is playing their role, there is no room for delay or error and I can see why young people of the world are calling for greater urgency because not everyone is committing to the action we need now."

Around 1000 turn out in Auckland

The Auckland Schools Strike for Climate wrapped up after 1000 students lay down on Queen St in protest with students from at least 20 schools taking part.

They were chanting and holding signs, and with police escorts, shut down entire blocks of Queen St as they lay down, and chanted "Wake Up". 

Some said skipping school was an easy decision, and that trying to address a climate breakdown is far more important.

Some students told RNZ their schools had scheduled NCEA assessments today to try and get them to stay in school.

One of the strike organisers, a year 13 student at Western Springs College, Luke Wijohn, said adults are asleep at the wheel and students were there for their future, risking detention and sacrificing NCEA credits because the climate emergency was far more important than that.

"I'm here and I think every kid is here because we're scared. We look into the future and we can see the reports coming out of the UN and we know it's not good enough, we're not going to have a future if we don't do more for climate change," he said.

He said students at his school were lucky to get a justified absence if they could prove they were at the strike. Other students were marked as truant. 

Students at Auckland's protest said more strikes would follow if their demands were not met.

Wellington students call for declaration of climate emergency

In Wellington, student leaders at the school strike for climate have urged the government to toughen up its zero carbon bill.

Thousands of students marched from Civic Square, through downtown Wellington to Parliament in Wellington, where they urged MPs to move the goal for net zero carbon emissions from 2050 to 2040.

They also called for Parliament to declare a climate emergency.

Strike leaders told the rally the world is in an emergency and political leaders need to act.

Secondary school students told RNZ that their schools and families were supportive of them being at the strike because they agreed it was such an important issue.

In Wellington students marched from Civic Square to Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Emily Barr from St Oran's College said she and her friends wanted urgent action on climate change.

"If we don't act now it will be irreversible," she said.

Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick told students gathered in front of Parliament that her party had drafted a climate emergency declaration to put to the other parties.


Christchurch students also turn out after 15 March strike cut short

More than 200 students and parents gathered in Christchurch, where the first school strike on 15 March was cut short by news of the mosque attacks. 

Student organisers consulted with the Muslim community before today's event, and a Muslim community advocate was among the first to speak.

More than 200 students and parents gathered in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Zahra Husseini said the wellbeing of the environment is emphasised in her religion.

"It's very important we look after our nature, our environment because it affects our personal well-being as well in our community."

Christchurch Girls' High School student Milla Batten said governments around the world were putting big businesses ahead of the environment. 

"[The] government should be protecting the interests of its people as a whole and when there are governments who are placing the needs of a few rich CEOs and their businesses over the welfare of our entire planet and every inhabitant in it, it's a bit ridiculous," she said.

'Our education won't mean anything ... if the world is in flames' - Nelson student

In Nelson, hundreds of students from schools throughout Nelson and Tasman marched down the main street.

A large crowd gathered on the Church Steps, before the students chanted their way along Trafalgar Street, attracting huge support from onlookers.

Holly Druce, 14, from Motueka High School said she skipped school to be at the march.

"I don't feel I should be at school when this sort of thing's happening, and we could all be dead within the next 10 years or so."

Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Ruby Vidgen, a Year 12 student from Nayland College, said the school's principal and teachers encouraged students to strike for their future.

"They understand that without a world in 10 years' time, our education won't mean anything and it won't matter if the world is in flames, pretty much."

She said the 10-year deadline signals that if nothing is done by then, it will be too late.

In Takaka, students met beside Golden Bay High School before midday, from where they marched into the township.

Nelson city last week followed Canterbury Regional Council in declaring a climate emergency, which will help guide its planning and development.

Auckland Council is also to consider declaring a climate emergency and the chair of its environment committee, Penny Hulse, expects the declaration to pass next month.