Student climate activists in Hong Kong have abandoned a planned march on Friday as ongoing anti-government protests heighten safety concerns.
The event, including a school strike, was to be part of a global student movement demanding governments take action to limit climate change.
Instead, the student-led Climate Action Hong Kong called on young people to join a photo campaign, writing “#morethan1%” on their bodies to demand the city government raise the share of energy that comes from renewables, which currently stands at 1 per cent.
“This doesn’t mean that we don’t care or we don’t think it’s important or we do not need to act now, [but] we decided the timing is quite unsuitable for us to be doing the climate strike due to the safety of students,” organiser Zara Campion said, noting the risk that it could spill into an anti-government protest.
The group, which organised two previous strikes in conjunction with a wider global movement in March and May, attended by children as young as six, had spoken to police about obtaining a permit to strike as early as June, the 18-year-old said.
“At the time the protests had just started and we thought it was quite likely we could get a permit and the situation would quieten down,” she said.
Some students had contacted the organisers to say they would still go on strike, Campion said. But schools had warned that pupils could face punishment if they skip class.
The anti-government protest movement – now past the three-month mark, having been sparked by a now-abandoned extradition bill – has led to many violent clashes between residents and police all over the city, with tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds used regularly.
The Hong Kong group’s campaign will coincide with a week of global action starting on Friday, which is shaping up to be one of the biggest days of climate activism in history. New York’s city government said it would allow 1.1 million students to skip school, while other strikes are planned on almost every continent.
On March 15, almost 1,000 students marched in Hong Kong, joining an estimated 1.4 million young people across the globe in a movement inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who planted herself in front of the Swedish parliament in August last year, handing out fliers that read: “You grown-ups do not give a s*** about my future.”
Campion, who will start university this year studying geography, said the group would join future global strikes as long as the situation in the city permits it. Meanwhile, she said the organising team, made up of nine students from both international and local schools, would continue to lobby the city’s government to take stronger action.
“One of the things we do differently from other countries’ [student groups] is we try and ask the government to address local issues, whereas other strikes ask them to follow the Paris agreement and the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” said Haruka Cheung, another organiser.
Cheung said the group was pushing for the Hong Kong government to increase its renewable energy goals from 3 to 4 per cent by 2020 to at least 6 to 8 per cent, adding that the government had been responsive.
“When we did the first strike we sent out an email to all the legislators, and many responded saying they were interested and Hong Kong needed change, which was a positive thing,” she said.
Three other green groups in the city – Extinction Rebellion, Waste Free Hong Kong and 350HK – have however vowed to press ahead with the planned strike on Friday.
The activists will skip work and rally at Central Pier No 9 starting from noon. “Unions and adults everywhere are preparing their own climate strikes on September 20 and 27 in over 150 countries already,” a spokesman from Extinction Rebellion said.
The global climate pressure group made waves in April with its non-cooperation and civil disobedience actions, including occupying vast swathes of central London and paralysing public transport, which were designed to raise awareness of the climate and ecological emergency facing the world.
Last week, the Hong Kong chapter of the group submitted its proposal to the Environment Bureau’s Council for Sustainable Development, which was holding a three-month consultation to draft the city’s climate action strategy for 2050.
Among the actions the group recommended were phasing out coal-fired power by 2025 and cancelling all new investments in gas-fired generating units, banning sales of fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2025, laws making the installation of solar panels mandatory on all new buildings, and a carbon tax to encourage lower energy use by corporations and individuals.
Additional reporting by Victor Ting
This article Protest safety fears put paid to Hong Kong climate march first appeared on South China Morning Post