Environment & Health Hong Kong Politics & Protest

#FridaysforFuture: Schools warn against class boycott as Hong Kong students plan climate change strike

Hong Kong students are set to walk out of school next month over the government’s “trailing” climate change policy.

The student-led strike is part of a global campaign to get young environmentalists to skip school on March 15 in demand of stronger government action against climate change.

air pollution

File photo: Citizen News.

The demonstrations were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who staged a school strike outside the parliament in Stockholm last August over climate change. Her movement #FridaysforFuture has led to walkouts at schools across Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries.

We’re going to peacefully make our voices heard,” local organiser Elisa Hirn told HKFP. “We’ve very little control over what is happening politically with climate change and it’s our future that’s in danger.”

Greta Thunberg

16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Photo: WEC screenshot.

The march in Central has been opposed by the Education Bureau, who told HKFP that the boycott would disrupt order in schools. “While we respect the right of students to express their opinions in a rational, peaceful and legitimate manner, we are opposed to boycotts of classes since any form of boycott of classes will disrupt the order in schools and interfere with the normal learning of students and operation of schools,” a spokesperson said.

Another organiser Zara Campion told HKFP that environmental protection is a topic ingrained in their curriculum but, in spite of this, many schools are opposed to their protest. “It goes against the core values of our education is about in my opinion because we’re taught one thing, yet when we act and try to take action we’re often suppressed and told that this isn’t the right thing to do,” she said.

Campion added that teachers at their school are to be notified about the protest in advance.

Organisers told HKFP that one of their key demands is to increase the city’s use of renewable energy from around three per cent, as outlined in the Environment Bureau’s “2030+ Action Plan” in 2017, to 20 per cent.

However, in the paper, the government said Hong Kong has modest renewable energy potential owing to limited territorial waters and land area with hilly terrain: “Hong Kong does not have favourable conditions for large-scale commercialised [renewable energy] generation,” it wrote.

“Hong Kong is trailing behind its counterpart cities in renewable energy, energy efficiency, transitioning to electric mobility, and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Not enough is being done to protect our futures,” organisers wrote on a Facebook page for the event. Over 150 have signalled that they are attending, with more than 800 stating they are “interested.”

Hong Kong has fallen 78 per cent short of the 2030 carbon emissions target set by C40 Cities for high emitting cities, a study by NGO CarbonCare InnoLab last December suggested. The report examined the city’s current environmental state and future targets against five other major Asian cities from the C40 Cities alliance, including Singapore, Tokyo, and Seoul. They found that Hong Kong is trailing behind its counterpart cities in renewable energy, energy efficiency, transitioning to electric mobility, and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Campion added that evidence of rapid climate change called for urgent action. “The reality is you can’t just wait because we don’t have time,” she said. “But also if you just wait it’s a very dangerous waiting game and we don’t really know what we’re playing at.”

Finance chief Paul Chan’s 2019 budget on Wednesday included only a short section on the environment, promising extra funds for greener government buildings and more electric car facilities.

When asked by HKFP if enough was being done, Chan said: “In terms of our commitment under the climate change, we will never compromise our position… if there are suitable initiatives we will spare no effort in promoting them.”

Additional reporting by Holmes Chan and Tom Grundy.

#FridaysforFuture: Schools warn against class boycott as Hong Kong students plan climate change strike