School Strikes 4 Climate: Protestors call for less talk, more action

11:32 pm on 9 April 2021

Thousands of children abandoned their classes for the day, all in the name of climate action.

Students take to streets for School Strike 4 Climate protest.

Students take to the streets for the climate strikes. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

School Strikes 4 Climate were held in a number of big cities for the first time since September 2019.

But in Christchurch, things were heated from the off.

There was anger and frustration towards the Christchurch Mayor, Lianne Dalziel.

Protesters chanted "Where's our Mayor?" before she arrived.

Tensions didn't much improve by the time she did step out.

"It's the people who jump into the cars on their own who are really damaging our environment, and not giving us a chance to succeed," she said to the crowd.

But she was then cut off as the group started chanting over her: "What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!"

She tried to re-intervene. "The truth is..." but was drowned out by the chants.

When she stepped down, the strike organiser Ciara Foley kept up the pressure.

"The actions they take now will directly impact our future.

"We must keep pushing leaders like those here today to do more on climate change, and to fight for this better future, because we both know you are not doing enough."

Demands at the forefront of protests

The Christchurch protesters had three key demands for the City Council: for better climate education, free public transport and for the Christchurch Airport, which is owned by the council, to drop its plan for a new airport.

One of the protestors, 14-year-old Anna Babington said free buses would be a great move.

"I use public transport currently, but then I can afford to use public transport because my parents pay for me.

"But then obviously other people can't go on public transport because it is too expensive, so if the government could subsidise that, that would be incredible."

Dalziel said she loved the protestors' passion but that some of it was misdirected.

She iterated it is the regional council that makes decisions about free buses.

"Don't ask me why, I think it's crazy, but it is. So I've just reinforced how important it is to submit to formal processes. And I know young people don't want to hear that, they just want to hear that we're going to make the change.

"The council has backed the call for free transport, so there's things we have in common, and I've offered to meet with them.

Students marching for climate action in Wellington.

Students marching for climate action in Wellington. Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas

Protests were just as noisy - although slightly calmer - elsewhere across the country.

In Te Whanganui-a-Tara, several thousand strikers marched to Parliament.

Izzy Cook, one of the organisers, said they had their own list of demands.

"Investing in a just transition to a sustainable future, reducing agricultural emissions, prohibiting the use of fossil fuels nationwide so phasing them out, getting climate education [and] honouring our neighbours in the Pacific Islands.

Students were pouring in from all over the region - 16-year-old Charlotte Thomson came from Paraparaumu College.

"Luckily for us, we're in a place where it's Covid-free, so we're able to do these types of things.

"Most countries aren't, so we are a sort of symbol for the rest of the world."

Classmate Dani Tuivaiti said climate change is an issue a lot of her generation is aware of.

"But some just more openly advocate for climate justice," she said.

The demands were handed over to Climate Change Minister, James Shaw.

But he said it's not just him who needs to be listening.

"It is a shared problem around the Cabinet table. It is energy, transport, agriculture, health. It stretches right across government.

"So to some extent, every minister has to be a climate change minister, because it affects everything we do.

"I completely accept the scale and speed of change isn't yet what it needs to be to turn this ship around."

Hundreds of kilometres away, over a thousand protestors marched through Auckland.

"We want action, there's a lot of promises, a lot of words, a lot of bureaucracy, but we want change."

It's a big year for the government, who will shortly begin preparing their response to the Climate Change Commission.

With thousands across the country raising their voices today, they will hope the government is listening.

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