Hundreds of Gibraltarian students joined thousands of other young people across the globe yesterday when they skipped school to strike for action to stop climate change.
Over 500 students and their supporters gathered in Casemates as school was due to start at 9am and proceeded to march up Main Street to No.6 Convent Place.
The students carried a large banner that read, “#GIBSCHOOLSTRIKE4CLIMATE” as well as numerous placards and signs. One common theme was ‘There is no planet B’.
Around the world, young people from the South Pacific to Europe and the US took to the streets, calling on political leaders to take swift action to curb rising global temperatures.
In the UK, organisers claimed 50,000 people took part in events in 150 British towns and cities including London, Brighton, Leeds, Manchester, Cambridge and Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The protest in Gibraltar was led by local activist and Westside student Iona Sacarello, 13. The students were joined by the Minister for Education and Environment, Dr John Cortes, who said he supported their goal.
Miss Sacarello said she was very happy that the minister was backing the strike, but added: “This is a march for students and we are asking for action, so the fact that he supports us is great. But what we need from him is some action.”
Dr Cortes, a veteran environmentalist, agreed that “…adults and Governments have not done enough.”
He said: “I believe totally in the message. I want the whole world to do more. I am here to support the young people and I am happy to do that.”
“There has been progress but a Government cannot do it on its own, it needs the community and it needs the business community.”
“I hope that the business community are listening to the young people because they are the business of the future..,” he added. He also noted that the Government would be bringing forward a climate change act.
He recalled when he was that age he was one of just a handful of voices calling for greater environmental awareness. It was, he said, a lonely time, but now young people are much more aware.
“The future is theirs,” he said.
“My generation has failed them.”
“I’d like to think that one or two of us have tried very hard and the awareness now has something to do with the one or two of us who were active then.”
“But, it is a new generation that is going to take over and I am here for them and I totally support it.”
Upon reaching No.6, the students were met by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who accepted a petition that had garnered over 700 signatures yesterday morning alone. Shaking Miss Sacarello’s hand he was joined by Dr Cortes outside his office.
Addressing the hundreds before he walked back inside, Mr Picardo briefly thanked them for coming, urging them to have a great weekend and acknowledging: “You are right, there is no planet B’.”
Miss Sacarello agreed with him and told the Chronicle: “I think he is completely right, we do not have a planet B, earth is our only planet, it is our only home and we need to take care of it.”
“We cannot just run away to Mars.”
“We need to take care of it [earth] and we need to take action to make sure it stays clean and liveable.”
Commenting on the turnout, she said: “Seeing how many there are now, this is amazing.”
“To see how many people really care about the environment and care about action that we need to take now.”
Among the protestors joining Miss Sacarello was Zara Mercer, 11, a pupil at St Anne’s School, who was accompanied by her encouraging mother Marian Alami-Mercer. She said she was “there for the environment” and she wanted more action from the Government regarding this.
Miss Mercer is a regular beach cleaner and on numerous occasions has collected copious bags full of litter that has been discarded, with Sun Top cartons she states being the most common.
A pupil at St Bernard’s Middle School, Amy Zapata, 12, was also striking. Brandishing a sign that read, ‘Fossil fuels are for fossil fools’, she said: “My Mum told me about this protest and I thought it sounded like a good idea and it is a good idea.”
Her mother Rose told the Chronicle she encouraged her daughter to take part: “Because I think it is very important that the children are very aware of what is going on. They are the future, they are the ones that are going to change the situation, not us as we are too old and too backwards.”
“They are the ones who can see the problem clearer than the adults, we cannot as we are more used to it and most of us don’t want to see it. But they [the children] realise the problems,” she added.
One of the adults from an environmental organisation attending the protest was Janet Howitt from ESG.
She told the Chronicle: “This is very exciting. It is about time that Gibraltar got on-board with a global protest.”
“It is completely youth driven and it is has to be, it is a great energy going around the world with children demanding action that we as a group have been calling for since we formed.”
Ms Howitt added that the place of the ESG yesterday was to welcome the young people taking part as “it is their generations future and people are waking up to this [climate change] now.”
She called the event “very moving and very positive,” adding she was proud of the young people in Gibraltar for taking part.
Inspector Malcolm Figueras, accompanied by his colleagues, had the task of ensuring the event went off safely and without incident. He believed it was the largest demonstration ever organised and attended by young people in Gibraltar.
Aside from the ESG there was representations from other environmentally aware organisations such as The Nautilus Project and members from the Department of Environment.