Islamabad: Thousands of students in school uniform and youngsters marched across Pakistan heeding calls of teen activist Greta Thunberg to take part in what is being termed as the largest climate protest in history.
They demanded the government take urgent action to tackle the climate crisis and prevent an environmental catastrophe.
Environmentalists, politicians and celebrities also joined the students as they took to the streets on Friday in more than 32 cities across Pakistan with major rallies in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Gilgit.
Pakistan Climate March was organised by a coalition of environmentalists called ‘Climate Action Pakistan’. Globally, more than 4,500 strikes were planned across 150 countries to demand world leaders to limit the harmful effects of man-made climate change.
‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when?’ read a placard, carried by a student outside Islamabad press club. ‘You are never too small to make a difference’ read another sign.
In Islamabad, a huge crowd of young people marched from press club to D-Chowk (the famous protest site) holding brightly coloured handmade placards and chanting ‘save our planet’. “I am here to make a change and fight for the future generation,” said 12-year-old Laiba Ibrar, who joined the climate change march with her classmates.
The youngsters were as passionate as informed. Talking to Gulf News, Tooba Shahid, 13, said she joined the march “to aware more people about the climate change and how to tackle it.” She urged people to start with little things such as to stop littering. “These little efforts when combined will eventually make a big difference.” Tooba said the Pakistani youngsters “expect and request the government of Mr Imran Khan to take full initiative in creating a system that benefits our society and our environment.”
The youngsters said they are demanding action on climate crisis because it is affecting them most. “We have grown up without clean air to breathe or safe water to drink — this makes us sick and also makes us not want to play outside,” said 15-year-old Rimsha Ali, a student of Fatima Jinnah Government School. “We did not contribute to this environmental mess, yet we are the victims.”
A young Islamabad-based environmentalist, Maryam Shabbir, at the Islamabad march was impressed to see the strength and spirit of the youngsters. “I am so glad to see a lot of youngsters especially school students at the march and they are quite sensitised about climatic issues. They are very concerned about their future and want to make a difference,” she said.
Talking to Gulf News, environmental lawyer, Abdul Rafay Alam, who attended the march in Lahore, was also fascinated to see huge number of youngsters and hoped they will be able to convince the leaders to take immediate actions. “Our house is on fire and they [the leaders] are not acting as they should in crisis.”
Pakistan has been ranked as the 7th most vulnerable country affected by climate change facing challenges such as melting glaciers that affecting freshwater availability, risk of floods and droughts, decrease in crop yields affecting livelihoods and food production, increased water, air and soil pollution and wildlife loss. To tackle these challenges, Pakistan government since last year has launched several green initiatives under Clean Green Pakistan movement, which includes plantation, plastic bag ban, electric vehicles policy and clean drinking water. Pakistan has also committed to 10 billion trees plantation in 5 years to combat climate change.
Environmentalist, however say, the policies are effective only on paper and slow in implementation. “If you are planting more trees but not protecting the old ones. What’s the use of such policies?” ask environmentalist Mome Saleem. “We need to put environment at the heart of all economic and social policymaking if we want to curb the effects of climate change and save our natural resources,” she said.