Gibraltar’s second strike for climate change took place yesterday, with over 500 students and pupils marching from Casemates to No.6 Convent Place.
Led by environmental activist Iona Sacarello, 13, the peaceful protest was greeted outside No.6 by the Minister for Environment Dr John Cortes.
A petition was also presented to Dr Cortes.
“This time we are asking not just for more targets, because there are plenty of targets and just because you set a target does not mean you will reach it. Now we are asking for action,” said Miss Sacarello.
“As I walk around Gibraltar, if I am near a main road I smell the pollution, I see the pollution and I hear the exhausts of cars running while stationary.”
“That sickens me, it is so detrimental for my health and Gibraltar’s health, and I know how badly it effects the environment.”
“We need to protect our environment because this is the future of life on earth. I do not know if that is too drastic or not but I just feel that the Government owe it to us the children of Gibraltar to keep our future safe,” she added.
The petition that was accepted by Dr Cortes calls for the politicians and older generations to take young people’s future seriously and treat climate change for what it is – a crisis.
“Our generation faces an unsafe future unless immediate and radical action is taken to mitigate the effects of decades of over consumption,” states the petition.
“We are here today to ask you as those with the power, authority, influence and funds to prioritise our earth’s future.”
“As Gibraltarians, we want to lead the way finding fast and effective solutions for climate change,” the petition added.
The petition is asking for the Government to reduce carbon emissions by 15% annually and gives a list of targets they would like to see met.
These include making a faster move towards renewable energy; reassessing the regulations for shipping in BGTW and investing in on-shore power for all docked vessels; publishing a separate budget to tackle climate change and increasing the planting of trees and creation of green areas.
Miss Sacarello acknowledges that the Government has planted – and pledges to plant – more trees but she feels due to the amount of pollution being created on the Rock, the number of trees is not sufficient.
In addition, the petitions states: “Despite the implementation for the STTPP, there are still far too many emissions on our roads. We ask for policies and investment to reduce our travel carbon footprint.”
The petition thanks Dr Cortes for his replies to their first petition, presented to the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo on March 15 this year.
On the topic of air quality monitoring in that petition Miss Sacarello said the Government was investing in new monitors and while this was positive, she would like to know what they are doing about the results.
“Greta Thunberg [Swedish activist] has a type of autism where she sees everything in black and white and when it comes to climate change it is not her that is seeing it in black and white, it is black and white,” said Miss Sacarello.
“Because either we go on as humanity or we don’t, either we sustain the ecosystems and the unique lifestyles of planet earth or we don’t. It is completely black and white there are no grey areas when it comes to existence,” she added.
Aware that every little helps when it comes to the environment she believes it is not enough as the UN states there is just 11 years left to avoid the irreversible impacts of climate change.
“We need drastic action more than anything now,” she said.
“This is a climate emergency and action needs to be taken now. I know I keep repeating this but it is so important people realise that and I am just going to keep on repeating this until I do see action,” she added.
While chants of “What do we want? Change! When do we want it? Now!” were bellowed by the students outside, Dr Cortes invited Miss Sacarello and three of her fellow activists into No.6 to have a brief chat.
During this chat, he offered Miss Sacarello the opportunity to sit down with the lawyer who drafted the recently announced Climate Change Act 2019.
He felt that the person who wrote the document might best answer any questions he was not able to answer. Miss Sacarello readily accepted the invitation.
Dr Cortes commended the students on their organisation and attendance at the march and said he would have liked to have walked with them but he was in a meeting regarding the building of the new schools.
On the petition, he pledged to read it and reply.
“I know that some of you thought that my reply [to the previous petition] did not show the urgency enough. I have heard that and that is perhaps just the way that it was written it is not that I do not think it is urgent and I will make sure it is reflected in the reply to this one,” said Dr Cortes.
Miss Sacarello replied: “On the sense of urgency when you talk to me I can hear that. I just feel that not enough action is being taken and I feel that there is not a sense of urgency reflected in that action.”
Dr Cortes agreed with her and stated that it frustrates him as well. Then he noted the various forms of action that have been taken since he last met with Miss Sacarello, such as the launch of a solar panel project.
“You are right we need to work faster and harder,” he said.
“But, I need help I need the whole community to come along.”
“When I publish this climate change act I don’t want people out there to say what is this about I don’t want to do this. No, I need businesses, I need private individuals and so on to support you and allow me to be able to do what you want me to do.”
“So we need the community to come along, it is not just the young people and it is not just the Government we need society to help,” he added.
Finishing up the meeting, Dr Cortes invited Miss Sacarello and her fellow activists who met with him to plant some trees in the recently announced park adjacent to Mid-Town. He also noted that the government is planting more trees than the plans for the park show.
In addition, he told the students if anyone has a suggestion as to where a tree can be planted they will endeavour to do so if it does not interfere with underground pipes and cables.
Miss Sacarello also called for more trees to be planted around schools as at present children are coughing when entering the school gates due to fumes from the traffic.
Ending the meeting Dr Cortes thanked the students and told them: “You will get a reply and we will step up the action.”