Hundreds of children miss school in Leeds for Youth Strike 4 Climate at Town Hall

Hundreds of children and young people from Leeds gathered on the steps of the Town Hall today as they went on strike to demand action on climate change.

By Joe Cooper
Friday, 15th February 2019, 2:27 pm
Updated Friday, 15th February 2019, 2:32 pm
Erica Thompson and Erin Tan with their mums at the Youth Strike 4 Climate protest at Leeds Town Hall.

Students from the University of Leeds were joined by sixth-formers and pupils from schools across the city as part of the nationwide Youth Strike 4 Climate.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds had warned students they should not miss lessons to take part in the strikes and pupils were told they risked getting detentions and unauthorised absences.

The crowd of more than 300 heard from a range of speakers, who called on the Government to declare a climate emergency and take active steps to tackle the problem, communicate the severity of the ecological crisis to the public and reform the curriculum to make it an educational priority.

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Erica Thompson and Erin Tan with their mums at the Youth Strike 4 Climate protest at Leeds Town Hall.

Among those who addressed the crowd were Erin Tan, 8, and Erica Thompson, 9.

Erin, who goes to Westbrook Lane Primary, said: “I want to stop climate change, to stop smoking and change the environment.”

Erica, who goes to school in Beeston, said: “The older generation have to listen and together we can save the environment.”

Both their mums said it was their children’s decision to attend - and felt missing lessons was justified.

Around 300 young people gathered on the steps of Leeds Town Hall.

Elizabeth Tan told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “My feeling is that they are going to learn more in one day here. They will get an unauthorised absence, but it is important they are here.”

Julia Parker and Florence Allworth, both 9, also attended. Julia’s mum Katrina Astley said: “There will be no point in them going to school if it all goes to chaos.”

Jayan Virk and Jasmine Ubhi, both sixth-formers at Horsforth School, said they were told by teachers that it was too short notice for them to attend.

Jayan said: “It’s very difficult for students to get their voices heard.” Jasmine added: “It’s our future.”

Julia Parker and Florence Allworth at the climate change protest.

Ilkley Grammar School student Hattie O’Looney attended with around 15 others from her sixth-form. She said the school had warned her they faced a detention for each lesson missed.

“That could mean up to six detentions,” she said. “We have only got 12 years left before we can’t make a difference anymore - we have to act now. The Government and our schools are not listening to us.”

The movement has already seen school strikes in Australia and elsewhere in Europe, and has been inspired by teenager Greta Thunberg, who protests every Friday outside Sweden's parliament to urge leaders to tackle climate change.

The strikes come in the wake of a UN report which warned that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which climate impacts become increasingly severe, requires unprecedented action.

That includes cutting global carbon dioxide emissions by almost half within 12 years.

University of Leeds student Shannon Jackson, who is part of the Extinction Rebellion campaign group, and helped to organise the protest, praised the young people who had turned out, but said it was “sad” that they had to be relied upon to send the message.

“It is difficult because the way our society is structured means we are so reliant on fossil fuels. These kids are amazing, they really care - they are saying they want us to create a better system so that they can live sustainably. It’s not easy when things like the tram scheme in Leeds was cancelled.”

Shannon said they wanted Leeds Council to do more by declaring a climate emergency.

A petition making that call also appeared on campaigning website change.org yesterday.

Leeds North West MP and former Leeds Alex Sobel, a regular climate campaigner, also addressed the protest. He said Leeds was leading the way in helping to tackle climate change, but told the Yorkshire Evening Post that government needed to do more.

He praised the “incredible” young people, adding: “We need to listen to these people. In 2050 or 2070 they are the ones who are going to have to cope with the effects of what we are doing now.

“The Government needs to work with Leeds. We cannot do it alone.”