By Anna Cocks
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 2 of VARSITY News.
On Friday, 15th March, hundreds of pupils stood outside Cape Town’s Parliament in protest, demanding that the government take action against climate change.
The #ClimateStrikeCapeTown was part of a global initiative to prompt governments to urgently tackle climate change. Pupils all over the world took part in similar protests as part of the #GlobalClimateStrike, which was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish girl who missed school every Friday from August to December 2018 to protest for the government to take action on climate change.
The strike was locally organised by Ruby Sampson, a 17-year-old Wynberg Girls’ High School matric pupil. Pupils represented a range of schools, including Simon’s Town High School to Rustenburg Girls’ High School.
The protest aimed to give youth an opportunity to voice their concerns to those in power in South Africa, even though they are unable to vote. “I am too young to vote, but we want our voices heard,” Sampson said. “Climate change is not even on the election agenda.”
The protest called for the political parties to commit to a broad array of policies, including a moratorium on new coal, gas and oil mining licences, 100 percent renewable energy in the electricity sector by 2030, a “Green New Deal” for South Africa, and initiating climate adaptation education in schools.
The strike was conducted peacefully but the atmosphere was one of urgency. The crowd was excited over the fact that this issue was being acknowledged, and hopes were high as pupils sang, chanted, danced, held up posters and gave speeches in an effort to alert the government to this issue.
“It’s time to stop denying our earth!” chanted a united crowd of pupils, teachers and adults.
“It’s terrible what’s happening,” said Hailey Roberston, a student at Harmony Primary School. “It’s sad that some of the animals are losing their homes.”
Many of the pupils also expressed that solving climate change can lead to solving problems such as poverty and inequality.
Although South Africa has the 25th largest population in the world, it is ranked the 14th largest contributor to climate change on the Climate Change Performance Index. This is largely caused by Eskom’s coal power stations and the nation’s comparatively low usage of renewable energy. Only 2.26 percent of South Africa’s electricity is generated from renewable sources, which is 158th in the world and behind Brazil, Russia, India, and China, according to the World Bank.
The French energy company, Total, announced its discovery of a large gas field off the coast of South Africa in early February this year, and the plans to extract this gas will likely contribute more to South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions.
At this pace, it would be nearly impossible for South Africa to meet the recommendations of the United Nations, which encourage all countries to cut carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
The students said that the South African government’s plan to combat climate change was inadequate, and hoped that the climate strike would empower their voices and lead to action.
“I want the government to stop using coal power plants and have complete renewable energy by 2030,” said James Granelli, a pupil from Westerford High School. “It is possible, and these coal plants are messing up our atmosphere.”