Islamabad: A number of students from across Pakistan have joined the global Youth Climate Strike movement to demand action on climate change.
Similar student-led protests have taken place in other countries, including in the United States and Europe, as part of the Youth Climate Strike, a global movement of youth demanding concrete changes to slow global warming.
“Stop Denying, The Earth Is Dying” and “Don’t Burn Our Future” read two huge banners at the march by different universities of Islamabad last Friday.
The protests were being held as part of the Fridays for Future movement.
“We are protesting because we feel the government is not doing enough. We have hardly contributed to the crisis and yet we’re going to suffer. We demand climate justice,” the organiser of Pakistan climate movement, Iqbal Badruddin, 27, told Gulf News.
The protest initiated by few students on March 22 at Iqra University has now spread to almost 15 colleges and universities.
“We are in the eighth week of strike which saw participation of nearly 300 students.”
Almost 60 protests have been held in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Peshawar, Sargodha and Gilgit since March with upcoming rallies planned in Lahore, Quetta and Multan.
300students from 15 colleges marched on Friday
What sparked the student climate strikes?
The global movement was inspired by 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg, whose weekly protest galvanised 1.4 million children in over 100 countries to take part in strike for climate change.
Some Pakistani students have also been moved by Greta’s bravery and her emotional words such as these: “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.”
“Greta’s speeches give us hope and courage and inspire us to take responsibility for our future”, said Kamran Ali, one of the organisers.
This prompted four youngsters from Islamabad — Iqbal Badruddin, Saad Kamran, Rozina Ahmad and Kamran Ali — to bring this movement to Pakistan.
“It is important because the effects of the climate crisis are already affecting Pakistan in the form of frequent floods, melting of glaciers, droughts, rising sea levels, air pollution and health risks,” Iqbal said.
Pakistan climate campaign focuses on awareness
Globally, the students are boycotting classes once a week but Pakistani students decided not to skip classes to be less disruptive.
Unlike in Western countries, here the university students have initiated the campaign, as climate literacy is low in Pakistan.
“We aim to engage school kids by raising environmental awareness at summer camps and by making climate education part of the school curriculum, says activist Rozina Ahmad.
“For our schools and students to play a positive role in tackling climate change, the action must begin in the classroom,” she adds.
Ali Tauqeer Shaikh, CEO of LEAD Pakistan, Islamabad-based environmental organisation, says the campaign signifies climate awareness among the youth.
“I hope our policymakers are listening to the youngsters demanding climate justice and bold action on climate change that we are already witnessing in Pakistan,” Ali said, talking to Gulf News.
His organisation, he said, is working to increase climate awareness and behaviour change in schools and 50 universities across Pakistan and hope to reach 50,000 students this year.
Educate, inform and policy change
Saad Kamran, 26, an MBA student at SZABIST University, has a very personal reason for joining the campaign.
“Being a hiker and nature lover, it really pains me to see how our forests and wildlife are disappearing, water and agriculture worsening. Joining the protest is my way of fighting for a future we deserve.”
For years, he has been making small efforts to change behaviours by asking people to properly dispose of their waste, and discouraging single-use plastics.
The current goal of young activists like Saad is to educate and inform people about climate change but ultimately aim to urge lawmakers to achieve Paris climate agreement goals, introduce policies that support sustainable development such as urban and vertical forestry and invest in renewable energy such as solar and wind power.
Pakistan is planting billions of trees but more action needed
Scientists have warned the world has just over a decade to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — or face floods, droughts and other threats. A recent UN scientific report has warned that one million animal and plant species may be pushed to extinction in the next few years, ultimately affecting humans as well, due to destructive impact of humans on nature.
In 2017, Pakistan passed the Climate Change Act, joining the ranks of a few countries with such legislation. Pakistani PM Imran Khan has recently launched massive countrywide campaign to plant 10 billion trees in the next five years. However, environmentalists say this is not enough and urge the enactment of environmental laws and climate-adaptation policies.
“I dream of clean air and clean water”
Youth leaders are urging politicians to declare climate emergency to offer a liveable future. “I dream of clean air and clean water. I dream of a green and clean world, healthier and happier people. To achieve this dream, we have to recycle items, reduce pollution, phase out single-use plastics, utilise renewable energy, avoid burning fossil fuels, preserve nature and species, and adopt use eco-friendly lifestyle” Saad said.
Key facts about the Pakistan Youth Climate Strike
15 universities and colleges
1.4 million children in over 100 countries taking part in global youth strike for climate change