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Climate strikes: Why are young people across the world taking to the streets?

Young people are taking to the streets in more than 1,400 places across the world on Friday to demand tougher action on the climate crisis.

A protest first started by the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg in 2018 has swelled into an international phenomenon. Today, there are more than 700 school strikes planned in Europe, nearly 200 in the US and 88 in sub-Saharan Africa.

The crowds come just weeks before Cop26 – the most important UN climate summit in years – is due to take place in Glasgow. A recent UN assessment found countries are still far behind the level of action needed to meet global climate goals.

As young people head out to protest, The Independent examines their key demands – as well as how they square with the latest science and pledges put forward by world leaders.

End to fossil fuels

A key demand of the Fridays for Future movement is for rich countries to “drastically” divest from fossil fuels and to end their “extraction, burning, and use”.

In 2019, around 84 per cent of global primary energy came from the fossil fuels coal, oil and gas. And a recent landmark report from the UN’s climate authority made it clear that burning fossil fuels is already impacting weather and climate extremes in every region of the globe.

The UK, the main host of Cop26, is less ambitious in its approach. Boris Johnson and his government is instead calling for countries to “consign coal power to history” – rather than all types of fossil fuels.

While coal is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, the latest scientific evidence shows that action on oil and gas will also be needed to limit the climate crisis.

Watch live as Greta Thunberg joins the Fridays for Future climate strike in Berlin

A study published in the journal Nature this month found that 90 per cent of coal and 60 per cent of oil and gas must be left in the ground if the world is to have even a 50 per cent chance of keeping global temperatures to 1.5C – the international aspiration set by the Paris Agreement.

And a major report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in May said there can be no further fossil fuel expansion if the world is to meet its climate goals.

The Independent’s Stop Fuelling the Climate Crisis campaign is also calling for action on all fossil fuels ahead of Cop26.

Climate cash for developing nations

Another key demand of youth strikers is for leaders to recognise the inequalities embedded in the climate crisis.

Since the start of the fossil fuel era, developing countries have caused the fewest emissions and yet tend to face the largest climate impacts, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate explained on Monday.

“Historically, we’ve seen that the entire continent of Africa is responsible for only 3 per cent of global emissions. And yet Africans are already suffering some of the most brutal impacts fuelled by the climate crisis,” Ms Nakate said.

“We’ve seen many Africans lose their lives and countless more have lost their homes and their businesses…This is why we will be striking on 24 September – to demand climate justice.”

Leading young activists have called for developed countries to meet promises to provide $100bn a year to help developing nations both tackle and adapt to rising emissions. The pledge was first made in 2009 and countries were due to come up with the cash by 2020.

Speaking on Monday, Ms Thunberg said that wealthy nations’ failure to deliver on promised funding “just doesn’t make sense”.

“How can countries like mine expect other countries to take climate action if we, who are very much more historically responsible per capita than other countries, ignore it?”

Boris Johnson has also called for leaders to meet the $100bn pledge – describing it as his main goal on his visit to the UN this week. However, his efforts to raise funds ahead of Cop26 could be hampered by the UK’s decision to slash its own spending on foreign aid, campaigners warn.

Green recovery from Covid-19

Climate strikers are also calling for a “global, green, and just recovery” from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since the pandemic first began in 2020, experts have urged leaders to “build back greener” as Covid restrictions ease – investing more in renewables and green jobs and less in the fossil fuel industry.

However, evidence suggests this advice has largely been ignored. An analysis by the UN published in March found less than a fifth of the money spent by major economies on long-term Covid recovery measures can be considered “green”.

And in April, the IEA warned that global emissions from energy use are set to soar by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021 – the highest annual increase since 2010 – as demand for fossil fuels return to pre-pandemic levels.

Ending violence against environmental defenders

Another demand of climate strikers is for the world to take urgent action to tackle violence against environmental defenders across the world.

Data released this month showed that a record 227 people were murdered for defending their land and environment in 2020.

In August, young Kenyan environmentalist and climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti told The Independentthat the UK and the UN must do more to act on murders of activists.

“Nobody deserves to be murdered for standing up for nature,” she said. “If anything, we need to be protected.”

The UK has so far not prioritised ending violence against environmental defenders in its international climate efforts.

Tackling climate and nature crises as one

Many young climate activists, including Ms Thunberg, are calling on leaders to recognise the interconnections between the climate and nature crises.

Earth’s biodiversity is in rapid decline – and more species are at risk of extinction today than at any other time in human history.

Some of the world’s leading climate and nature scientists have also issued calls for leaders to tackle both the climate and nature crises together. In a major report released in June, they warned that solutions to tackle the climate crisis might worsen nature loss unless efforts are made to tackle both problems in unison.

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