MADRID (AFP) – Tens of thousands of activists from around the world including teen activist Greta Thunberg hit the streets of Madrid on Friday to demand urgent action on the climate crisis from world leaders attending the COP25 summit in the Spanish capital.
The 16-year-old Swede, who has become famous for galvanizing a generation of youngsters to fight for the environment, was surrounded by supporters and the press, prompting her to leave the march shortly after it began.
“The police say I can’t continue like this… I feel sorry for everyone… there are safety issues, there and too many journalists and too many people,” the 16-year-old Swede said before boarding an electric car.
Thunberg — who refuses to fly because of the carbon emissions involved — had arrived in Madrid on Friday morning after making a nearly three-week journey across the Atlantic by catamaran to be in Spain for the climate talks.
“We would love some action by people in power because people are suffering and dying due to the climate and ecological emergency and we can’t wait any longer,” she told a news conference before the start of the rally.
The march took place in Madrid on the sidelines of the UN climate conference, with a simultaneous rally held in the Chilean capital, which had been due to host the 12-day gathering but was forced to pull out due to deadly anti-government protests.
The COP25 summit opened on Monday with a stark warning from the UN about the “utterly inadequate” efforts of the world’s major economies to curb carbon pollution.
Demonstrators beat drums and blew whistles as they made their way along the 3-mile route of the march from Atocha train station.
“Without a planet there is no future” and “politicians the earth is dying” were among the signs on display.
Under the slogan “The world has woken up to the climate emergency”, the rally featured a significant number of Chilean groups.
Thunberg had been en route to Chile when the venue was changed, forcing her to hitch a ride back to Europe.
“Climate change affects us all, but also future generations. We have to become aware that the world is heading to its end,” Paula Sanchez, a 16-year old from Madrid, told AFP at the march.
Oscar-winning Spanish actor Javier Bardem, a vocal environmental activist, was among those at the protest, which featured speeches, music and cultural performances.
“2019 has, without doubt, been the year in which people have woken up about the climate,” march spokesman Pablo Chamorro told reporters on the eve of the rally.
“Speeches are not enough, we need concrete actions that target climate ambition that will resolve these problems,” said Estefania Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Civil Society for Climate Action (SCAC) representing more than 150 Chilean and international groups
SCAC has been the driving force behind a week-long Social Summit for Climate Action, which begins on Saturday and runs parallel to the COP25, involving hundreds of events, lectures and workshops.
Indigenous groups will also have a visible presence, with Juan Antonio Correa of the Minga Indigena collective saying their lands and peoples were “the first to be affected by climate change”.
“Our traditional and historic practices and the relationship that indigenous people have with Mother Earth is an alternative and a way in which modern society can face up to the climate crisis,” he said.
In their manifesto, groups involved in the march address a clear message to the decision-makers from the nearly 200 countries attending the UN summit.
“We demand that governments participating in COP25 recognize the current climate inaction and state that the insufficient ambition of their agreements will lead the planet to a disastrous global warming scenario,” they wrote.
The world’s top scientists believe the long-term average temperature rise must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels to prevent runaway warming and catastrophic longer term damage.
But the level of emissions being released into the atmosphere has risen to an all-time high, triggering global weather hazards from heat waves to intense hurricanes and raging wildfires.
By Daniel Silva and Diego Urdaneta
© Agence France-Presse