Climate-change protests are getting under way in four cities, as New Zealanders join a global climate strike.
Thousands of students around the country are skipping school today – some with permission – to join global protests demanding urgent action on climate change.
Led by the student movement Fridays For Future, countries across the world will be taking part over the course of the day.
Demonstrations, marches and rallies are being held simultaneously in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and New Plymouth to draw attention to global warming and demand action from leaders.
In Wellington, protesters gathered on Parliament’s grounds to the tune of rousing chants and speeches calling for action.
Spokesperson for School Strike for Climate Wellington Seren Lewis said they were striking for six key demands.
They included making agricultural practices in New Zealand more sustainable, upgrading cycleways and walkways and more free public transport.
“We are young people and we want a future on the planet,” Lewis said.
“It’s really easy to just ignore the voices of young people,” fellow spokesperson Frankie Huthnance added, but “it’s really important that the government is held accountable.”
Green MPs also joined in on the action.
To those assembled in Parliament, Green Party co-leader James Shaw was met with rousing applause.
Shaw told them to keep their action up, saying the movement needed to regain momentum, following Covid.
Shaw told the crowd he was also frustrated by the slow pace of change.
“You know people can be pretty cynical about the political process, and God knows it’s tough, right? And we’re pushing everyday for stronger action on climate change and we’re making way too little progress for my liking, but your voices have made a huge difference.”
He said the consequences of climate change had been obvious this year, citing several devastating events from the floods in Pakistan to those in Nelson.
A spokesperson for School Strike 4 Climate Wellington Izzy Cook said other demands included ending coal and gas exploration.
“The government has said they’re committed to being carbon neutral by 2050 but based on what changes are being made to the way we live and the policies that are being introduced and things like that… I think and I think a lot of other climate activists think that the government’s just not doing enough and that’s why we continue to strike,” she said.
Cook, a Year 12 student, said she worried how climate change would affect her future, or whether she would even have a future, unless urgent action was taken now.
About 200 people gathered in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square for the school strike, before marching to the council offices and demanding councilors take action.
The crowd increased as the march went on, gathering about 300 to 400 people.
One of the organizers, student Oscar Compton-Moen said they wanted councilors to support denser housing, avoidance of urban sprawl, and better public transport provisions.
Compton-Moen said young people cared about the climate because it was their future at stake.
Another of the organizers told the crowd that sticking your head in the sand about the problems was not the solution. She said their lives were in politicians’ hands.
Canterbury University student Carter Andrew said he was disappointed by the lack of action by leaders in the city.
Hundreds of people gathered in central Auckland for the protest.
“I’m here today because the time is up,” said one protester. “I’m speaking on behalf of a planet that is crying for help.”
Maia Week, a speaker at the protest, said she wanted to bring a Māori perspective to the kaupapa.
“It’s important to bring that Māori point of view, and any indigenous point of view, because the reality is we’re in a climate crisis because of colonisation.”
Auckland organizer Sophie Todd was thrilled by the sunny weather and strong turnout.
“We were looking at the forecast and ready to commit either way, but we’re happy for the sunshine,” she said. “Activism never stopped [during lockdown]. We’re just able to hit the streets again now.”
Auckland protesters were met by jeers from counter protesters as they marched down Queen Street, but shrugged them off.