British Columbia

'We don't want to be here, we have to be here': 100K strike for climate action in Vancouver

Protesters too young to vote made their voices heard by skipping school and gathering outside Vancouver City Hall on Friday to demand adults get serious about protecting their futures.

Thousands march in the streets Friday in multiple cities across B.C. to protest inaction

Demonstrators participate in a climate strike in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Protesters too young to vote made their voices heard by skipping school and gathering outside Vancouver City Hall on Friday to demand adults get serious about protecting their futures.

The strike for climate justice was one of many events happening in cities across the world, timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Action Summit underway this week in New York.

By 2 p.m. Vancouver's Cambie Street Bridge was completely shut down by police as protesters converged on Vancouver city hall. Police estimated the crowd to be about 100,000 people and described it as peaceful.

Watch a time-lapse video of the march across the Cambie Street Bridge:

The march from Vancouver City Hall to the Vancouver Public Library took roughly an hour and 30 minutes. 0:31

Even though thousands of adults marched alongside them, for teenage climate change activists, this is about calling out the inaction of the previous generation.

Grade 12 students Samantha Lin and Naia Lee are part of a group of 30 core organizers with the Vancouver group Sustainabiliteens.

The group expected a large crowd to join them in the streets, including representatives from more than 150 supporting businesses in the Lower Mainland, 80 of which closed their doors for the day.

"It's really powerful to see so many people coming together," said Lee in an interview Friday morning on CBC's The Early Edition. 

"We don't want to be here, we have to be here," she added.

The students want politicians to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent by 2030. The province has committed to cutting emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

Demonstrators participate in a climate strike in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Global climate strikes

The series of global strikes was inspired by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, who began skipping class on Fridays to protest lack of action on climate issues. 

Thunberg spoke to the United Nations Climate Change Summit this week. 

"This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean," Thunberg said. 

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words," she told a room full of world leaders.

Members of march-organizing group Sustainabiliteens at a climate action event on Sept. 20 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. From left to right: Harrison Johnston, Samantha Lin, Lilah Williamson, Rebecca Hamilton and Naia Lee. (Submitted/Samantha Lin)

Lin and Lee echoed her sentiment.

"I share that feeling of anxiety and fear, that feeling we need to do something," said Lee, who attends Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School.

Lin, a student at Prince of Wales Secondary School, said it is challenging trying to focus on life after high school graduation when she is so focused on the dire state of the Earth.

"Other people are telling us to prepare for the future, jobs, but I am thinking about the rise in emissions," said Lin.

Students showed up to their classes on Friday morning before walking out as a group to join protests calling for action on climate change in their cities.

UBC student Heidi Collie, 18, participates in a climate strike on UBC’s campus in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Vancouver School Board and the Surrey school district both decided to excuse students who participate in this Friday's climate strike provided they have their parent or guardian's permission. Elementary school students will have to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to attend.

'Support us'

"Instead of the adults telling us where to go and what to believe in, we are the ones organizing the strike and inviting the adults to come support us," said Lin.

Events are also taking place across the Lower Mainland and elsewhere in the province, including in Victoria, Tofino, Kelowna and Whistler.

Students participate in a climate strike on UBC’s campus in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Staff at the B.C. Legislature estimate more than 2,500 people gathered on the lawns there.

In Prince George, about 100 people were under Mr. PG at the intersection of Highway 97 and 16, holding signs with messages such as "no forests, no future" and "can you love the earth as much as you love your truck."

According to a 2019 report commissioned by Canada's Environment and Climate Change Department, northern B.C. is one of the regions projected to be hardest hit by rising global temperatures.

Road closures and cameras

To manage the crowds, Vancouver police closed Cambie Street north of West Broadway and the Cambie Street bridge. They also closed Yukon Street between 12th and Broadway.

Later, protesters marched to Georgia and Hamilton streets in Vancouver for more speeches and solidarity. Police warned about traffic congestion and the closure of West Georgia Street between Richards Street and Hamilton Street.

Thousands of people gathered in Victoria on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 on the lawns of the B.C. Legislature to protest inaction over climate change. (Gregor Craigie/CBC)

Meanwhile, police in Victoria set up temporary cameras to help ensure public safety during the strike there.

Climate emergencies

Vancouver, along with other Metro Vancouver cities such as Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster, Port Moody, West Vancouver, District of North Vancouver, and the City of North Vancouver have all declared climate emergencies.

Vancouver says it's making a "five-fold increase in our efforts to tackle climate change and align local efforts with the International Panel on Climate Change's recommendations."

Protesters as part of a climate strike on Friday, Sept. 27 gathered at Hamilton and Georgia streets in Vancouver to protest inaction on climate change. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

Meanwhile George Heyman, B.C.'s environment minister released a statement on Friday saying in response to the climate strikes that, "we all have a responsibility to rise to the challenge and take meaningful action today."

In December 2018, the province announced its CleanBC plan, which was developed in partnership with the B.C. Green Party. It is meant to reduce climate pollution and transition to a clean, energy-efficient and carbon-neutral future.

It set targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, 60 per cent by 2040 and 80 per cent by 2050.

Carbon emissions in B.C. in 2017 were only slightly below 2007 levels despite a long-running strategy to fight climate change that includes a carbon tax, according to data from the province.

Climate strike organizer Rebecca Hamilton said she hoped the protest will drive more people to demand more climate protections from decision makers.

"I think this is definitely doing this," she said about the day of action. "This is way more people than we expected. This has been incredible. It's been amazing to see the whole city come together."

With files from Bridgette Watson, Andrew Kurjata and The Early Edition