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Thousands of Students of Australia and Other Asia-Pacific Countries Kick Off Strike for Climate Action

Thousands of students took to the streets of Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries Friday

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Students, Australia, Asia
Thousands of protesters gather in Sydney, Sept. 20, 2019, calling for action against climate change. Australia's acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack described climate rallies as "just a disruption" that should have been held on a weekend. VOA

Thousands of students took to the streets of Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries Friday to kick off a global strike demanding world leaders gathering for a U.N. Climate Action Summit adopt urgent measures to stop an environmental catastrophe.

“We didn’t light it, but we’re trying to fight it,” read one sign carried by a student in Sydney, as social media posts showed huge demonstrations around the country including outback towns like Alice Springs.

“The oceans are rising and so are we,” read another sign held by a protester wearing school uniform in Melbourne.

Similar protests, inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, are planned in some 150 countries Friday. The aim is for students and others from around the world to speak in one voice about the impending effects of climate change on the planet.

Students, Australia, Asia
FILE – Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, speaks in front of a crowd of people after sailing into New York harbor aboard the Malizia II, Aug. 28, 2019. VOA

“Soon the sun will rise on Friday the 20th of September 2019. Good luck Australia, The Philippines, Japan and all the Pacific Islands. You go first!” Thunberg posted Thursday on Instagram.

By early afternoon, the Sydney protesters were overflowing out of a 34-hectare (84-acre) open space in the city. Similar crowds were reported in Brisbane and other state capitals.

Danielle Porepilliasana, a Sydney high school student, had a blunt message for politicians like Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who told parliament  Thursday that students should stay in class.

“World leaders from everywhere are telling us that students need to be at school doing work,” she said, wearing anti-coal earrings. “I’d like to see them at their parliaments doing their jobs for once.”

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Solo start

Thunberg has galvanized young people around the world since she started protesting alone with a sign outside the Swedish parliament building in August 2018. Over the past year, young people in other communities have staged scattered strikes in solidarity with her Fridays for Future movement.

In conjunction with the U.N. summit this week, organizers on Friday will hold coordinated strikes around the world for a third time, with Thunberg spearheading a march and rally in New York, home of U.N. headquarters.

In a show of support, New York City education officials will excuse the absences of any of its 1.1 million public school students who want to participate.

Students, Australia, Asia
FILE – Youths demonstrate for climate change during a “Fridays for Future” school strike, in front of the Ecology Ministry in Paris, France, Feb. 15, 2019. VOA

Demonstrators will gather in Lower Manhattan at noon and march about a mile to Battery Park at the edge of the financial district for a rally featuring speeches and music.

Thunberg, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in March, sailed to New York from England aboard a zero-carbon-emissions vessel to partake in the U.N. summit.

It brings together world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels.

Effects being felt

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Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has already led to droughts and heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and floods, scientists say.

Carbon emissions climbed to a record high last year, despite a warning from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that output of the gases must be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilize the climate.

Organizers said the demonstrations would take different forms, but all aim to promote awareness of climate change and demand political action to curb contributing factors to climate change, namely carbon emissions.

Demonstrators in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, planned to dance on the beach in a celebratory pledge to protect their natural heritage. Protesters in Istanbul were heading to a public park for a climate festival with concerts and workshops scheduled throughout the day.

On Wednesday, Thunberg appeared before several committees of the U.S. Congress to testify about the next generation’s view on climate change. In lieu of testimony, she submitted a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that urged rapid, unprecedented changes in the way people live to keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees C by 2030.

“I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take action,” she said. (VOA)

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Experts Emphasize the Need to Work with Nature to Save Asia’s ‘Disappearing Deltas’

Mounting research blames a confluence of rising sea levels driven by global warming and the damming and dredging of key rivers

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Nature, Asia, Deltas
This picture taken on March 28, 2015 shows boats carrying visitors along the Amphawa canal, a small tributary of the Mae Khlong River, in Samut Songkhram province some 80 kilometers west of Bangkok. VOA

Water and climate experts from across Asia are stressing the need to work with nature, rather than against it, to save the continent’s “disappearing deltas,” home to some 400 million people.

Mounting research blames a confluence of rising sea levels driven by global warming and the damming and dredging of key rivers and their tributaries for the rapid sinking and shrinking of Asia’s seven major delta systems, from the Indus in Pakistan to the Pearl in China.

The experts say swelling cities are adding to the pressure by weighing down the deltas and sucking up groundwater. The seven deltas alone host 14 of the world’s 33 megacities, including Bangkok, where the experts are gathered this week, parts of which are sinking by 2 centimeters a year.

Losing the deltas will not only erase some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, experts add, but drive mass migration, deplete vital farmland and disrupt some of Asia’s most dynamic business hubs.

Nature, Asia, Deltas
With the threat of rising sea levels, Indian villagers prepare soil bags for mangrove seedlings at a Mangrove Nursery, at the village of Mathurakhand, some 125 kilometers southeast of Kolkata on Feb. 10, 2008. VOA

The Pearl River Delta, which empties into the South China Sea past Hong Kong, has been dubbed the “world’s workshop” for its abundance of busy factories. In Vietnam, forecasters say 1 million people will have to leave the Mekong River Delta, the country’s rice bowl, by 2050.

“These are some of the most vulnerable places to climate change and change across river systems, but they are also the home for a number of us who live here, they are also the breadbasket of the world that feeds a number of the countries that depend on them,” said Kavita Prakash-Mani, global conservation director for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“So while we are worried about numerous ecosystems around the world, we really need to be putting special attention on our delta systems and the wetlands and all the other ecosystems they support,” she added.

The WWF is hosting a three-day forum in Bangkok, which started Wednesday, to help researchers and policymakers from across Asia tackle the problem, learn from each other and brainstorm new and better ways to save the deltas.

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The environmental protection group and others are pushing the idea of “building with nature,” where nature is used to cope with climate change — think mangrove seeding to cushion coastal communities from floods — and development falls in step with the natural world’s rhythms.

“So it’s not just about building high walls and keeping the water out. It is really about restoration — restoring wetlands, mangroves, rivers and enabling them to flow, enabling them to create the kind of deltas that we want, [and] the resilience that comes from that and the protection it will then afford us from rising sea levels. It is one of our best solutions,” said Prakash-Mani.

Anamitra Anurag Danda, a senior visiting fellow on climate change at India’s Observer Research Foundation, said protecting deltas means not only adapting to rising sea levels but taking care of the rivers that feed them.

He said the rivers and tributaries of India’s Ganges Delta, part of the largest delta system in the world, “have been either dammed or barraged, and therefore the sediment that would otherwise have built the delta does not reach the delta.”

Nature, Asia, Deltas
This UNICEF photo taken on May 21, 2008 shows fields inundated with water at an undisclosed location in the Irrawaddy Delta region of Myanmar. VOA

Between that and a thirsty city of Kolkata drawing hundreds of millions of liters of water daily out of the ground, the delta lost 16,300 hectares of land in the 40 years leading up to 2009, said Anurag Danda, who also advises the WWF.

He said more sinking and shrinking of the deltas was “inevitable,” and it would mean retreating from some areas to give them time to recover.

But that won’t be practical everywhere.

“It’s not just building with nature,” said Stuart Orr, a WWF freshwater expert. “Of course we need traditional infrastructure as well. But we need to be thinking a lot more intelligently about how we modify our river systems and our delta systems, and allow that new science to creep into our decision-making and investments.”

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Tiziana Bonapace, with the U.N. Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific, said better climate modeling, early warning systems and other hi-tech solutions could prove “game changers” in helping the many millions who call the deltas home stay put and stay safe.

She said her office was now working across 15 Asian countries to improve flood forecasting for the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta System, drawing attention to the need for countries to work together.

Seri Suptharathit, of the Center on Climate Change and Disaster at Thailand’s Rangsit University, said the governments of those countries also had to work harder at thinking about the problem and its solutions in terms of generations, rather than election cycles.

“Politics thinks only to four years, but this is 30 years, 80 years. How [do] we ask them to think for the future, for the young generation?” he said.

Should they fail, Seri quipped wryly, guests arriving at any forum on Asia’s sinking and shrinking deltas in Bangkok three or four decades hence may have to make the trip by boat. (VOA)