Tens of thousands of school students demonstrate across NZ calling for action on climate change

ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Wellington school children strike for climate change action outside parliament.

From Southland to the Bay of Islands, tens of thousands of school pupils took to the streets today demanding action on climate change.

Around 40 demonstrations were planned in cities and towns across New Zealand as part of the international School Strike 4 Climate campaign.

Young people are calling on the Government to do more to reduce global warming before higher temperatures and rising sea levels have catastrophic consequences.

Demonstrators march from Te Ngākau Civic Square to Parliament Lawn.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Demonstrators march from Te Ngākau Civic Square to Parliament Lawn.

The student strike is the largest of its kind ever staged in New Zealand and organisers vowed more action is to follow.

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For many it was their first foray into political activism, but armed with placards and banners, young people gathered in their thousands at Te Ngākau Civic Square in Wellington this morning.

Hamish McNeilly / Stuff
Hundreds of people chant and wave banners as part of the strike in Dunedin.

Despite many being warned they would be marked absent from school, the student strikers marched on Parliament to send their message to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Government.

The demonstration was organised as part of the School Strike 4 Climate NZ which urged Kiwi kids to miss lessons for the day to join the fight against climate change.

It was an overcast morning but spirits were high as pupils from across the region assembled in the city centre, chanting "want do we want? Climate Justice. When do we want it? Now!"

Former Kāpiti College student Sophie Handford, the School Strike 4 Climate NZ's coordinator, calls the march to action.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Former Kāpiti College student Sophie Handford, the School Strike 4 Climate NZ's coordinator, calls the march to action.

Shoppers, tourists and city workers looked on as the procession wound its way along Lambton Quay.

As they reached Parliament Lawn there was a festival atmosphere as students banged drums, blew whistles and sounded horns.

A number of speakers addressed the crowd with words of encouragement or support before MPs James Shaw, Nicola Willis and Grant Robertson took part in a Q and A. 

About 200 students from schools across Hawke's Bay marched in Napier.
Marty Sharpe
About 200 students from schools across Hawke's Bay marched in Napier.

Climate Change Minister Shaw received a warm welcome as he took to the mic following yesterday's attack which left him with a black eye.

He said the Government was committed to passing the zero carbon act this year and it would need to be done by June, "so that for the first time, we have a legally binding commitment to staying within 1.5 degrees [Celsius] of global warming because if we do not, we do not have a future".

He said the bill would form targets to cut New Zealand's climate pollution and form a politically neutral climate change commission "to keep us on track, to hold us accountable".

JOHN HAWKINS/Stuff
Climate Change Protest March through the streets of Invercargill

"It is time for the talking to stop and it is time for the action to start."

To the people who denied and obfuscated climate change, Shaw said: "It is real, it is us, it is bad, and we can fix it.

"So, keep it up. Stay strong. Keep holding us to account. It is only because of you that we are able to do the things that we need to do, this year, to fix this thing."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was a surprise visitor at  the Student Strike 4 Climate Change in New Plymouth.
Fiona Glennie
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was a surprise visitor at the Student Strike 4 Climate Change in New Plymouth.

He said the crowd gathered on Parliament's lawns in the capital was the largest march for climate change.

The day of national action was spearheaded by former Kāpiti College student Sophie Handford, the School Strike 4 Climate NZ's coordinator.

The 18-year-old said the number of students who attended the Wellington protest exceeded all expectations.

A protester expresses her sympathy to Climate Change Minister James Shaw after he was assaulted.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
A protester expresses her sympathy to Climate Change Minister James Shaw after he was assaulted.

"We thought we might get around 500 people. There are so many people here, it's incredible.

"Every single one of these young people here today is playing a key part in democracy. These young people are the hope we have been waiting for."  

The demonstration was one of a number of School Strike 4 Climate events that took place locally, with similar protests staged outside Kāpiti District Council and War Memorial Library in Lower Hutt.

DAVID WALKER/Stuff
Thousands of students filled Christchurch's Cathedral Square on Friday, as part of the global student climate action.

A group of Thorndon Primary School students stood in front of the crowds and said "this is our planet and this is what we have done with it".

Addressing adults, they said choices needed to be made now because they were the ones who would witness the results of another generation's inaction.

Victoria University of Wellington's professor James Renwick, who was awarded the Prime Minister's Science Communication prize for his work on climate change, said the globe needed "urgent action, starting right away".

Students used homemade banners to express their concerns over climate change.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Students used homemade banners to express their concerns over climate change.

"New Zealand is about the first country in the world to have these climate marches. So today, you are leading the world."

Taranaki protest

In Taranaki school students cheered and screamed when, in a surprise move, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern turned up to address them.

Thousands of young people marched on Parliament to call for immediate action on climate change.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Thousands of young people marched on Parliament to call for immediate action on climate change.

Ardern is in New Plymouth to speak at the launch of a report into the potential of setting up a hydrogen industry in the region, and to launch Womad 2019 this evening.

But she made a quick detour to the New Plymouth School Strike 4 Climate Change at Puke Ariki Landing in the CBD and shared her thoughts on climate change.

"It is the biggest challenge we will tackle globally in my lifetime and in your lifetime," Ardern told the crowd of about 200 students.

Lee Kenny/ Stuff
Protesters gather outside parliament in Wellington as part of the march against climate change.

The Prime Minister spoke to the crowd about the zero carbon act and plans to get to carbon neutrality by 2050. "Not because we want to, because we have to."

And despite the decision to stop offering any more permits for oil and gas exploration offshore being controversial in Taranaki, local students and parents alike cheered in support of mentions of the plans.

"But that means we have a responsibility to work alongside your community and say what is the future path for Taranaki and the economy here," she said.

Ardern thanked the students for their efforts.

Among their many climate concerns, the group are calling for a zero carbon act to make New Zealand carbon neutral by 2050 and a commitment to cease all fossil fuel extraction.

They also want greater investment in renewable energy alternative and new regulation of the agriculture industry, which they say accounts for almost half of New Zealand's emissions.

The School Strike 4 Climate Action movement began in Sweden in August last year when 15-year-old Greta Thunberg missed school to protest outside the Swedish Parliament holding a sign that read: 'kolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for climate).

Since then it has grown into a worldwide collective.

Today it emerged that Greta Thunberg had been nominated as a candidate for this this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

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