Rallies from Manhattan to Melbourne call for action on global warming on eve of UN leaders’ summit

The Guardian

Hundreds of thousands of people from Melbourne to Manhattan took to the streets yesterday to demand their leaders act on global warming, in the biggest display of public support for action to tackle climate change yet seen.

The Guardian |

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A protester carries a butterfly-shaped cut-out sign during the march in New York.

Hundreds of thousands of people from Melbourne to Manhattan took to the streets yesterday (21SEP) to demand their leaders act on global warming, in the biggest display of public support for action to tackle climate change yet seen.

The People’s Climate March, whose organisers claimed it included 580,000 people at at least 2,700 events in 161 countries, happened before a meeting of about 120 leaders at the UN, the first such gathering for five years.

In Manhattan a noisy, hopeful cavalcade estimated by organisers at 310,000 protesters, led by Hurricane Sandy survivors carrying placards of sunflowers and native Americans in traditional headdresses, took over the streets of Midtown.

Juggling, singing, blowing synagogue shofars, whistling and beating drums, they chugged along in biodiesel-powered floats. They were joined by celebrities including the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who was appointed last week as a UN climate change ambassador.

"I think it will make a difference," said Tashina Red Hawk, 10, from the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota, who was wearing the intricately beaded traditional Sioux Indian dress. "But it would still be good to do all kinds of other stuff."

In London, organisers said 40,000 people marched along the sunlit streets, through the city centre and on to the Houses of Parliament. The protest was peaceful, although loud jeers erupted as the crowd passed Downing Street and the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

In Melbourne, protesters paraded a giant puppet of Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott.

If nothing is done about climate change, the world is on course for a 4.5C temperature rise, a level that would inflict catastrophes on some of the poorest countries, submerging coastlines as sea-levels rise and scorching fields with heatwaves and drought. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington announced just last week that June, July and August had been the hottest months on record and that 2014 was on course to break the record for hottest year, which was set in 2010.

But the agenda for tomorrow’s gathering in New York is uncertain. The UN has said repeatedly that the event is not about negotiations. It will be in Lima, Peru, in two months’ time, that the final stretch of long and difficult negotiations will take place, aiming at an international agreement to cut the greenhouse gases that cause climate change by late 2015 in Paris.

Instead, the UN said, tomorrow’s gathering would press world leaders to do more: to cut more carbon and, for the rich countries, release more cash to help poorer nations cope with climate change.

Those at yesterday’s protests - which in New York included the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and the former US vice-president Al Gore - said that by being in the streets they could help push world leaders to act.

“You can’t get 200 people together and not have something get out of it. It’s going to be huge,”said Mark Ruffalo, the actor, who is a prominent supporter of environmental causes. “I don’t know exactly the effect, but I promise you one, five, 10, 15 leaders are going to come out of it, and do something. Somebody is going to want to be a hero."

Richard Chartres, the bishop of London, told the rally: “We are tenants, and we must keep the Earth fit for our children. Climate change is a moral issue."

Actor Emma Thompson said: "Every single person on this Earth has the power to change the world. When we all come together, our power becomes irresistible. Now we must use our power to tackle the biggest threat humanity has ever faced." 

The designer Vivienne Westwood railed against capitalism in her address: "A triad of [fossil fuel] monopolies, banks and politicians are ruining the planet. If runaway climate change kicks in, then within a generation, there will be very little habitable on the planet and the suffering will be unimaginable."

Marchers’ costumes included polar bear and gazelle outfits. One gazelle, Merlin from Brighton, said: "People are important, but animals are vital as well. We are here representing all the animals not here today."

In Paris organisers said about 8,000 people marched. Antoine Heron, a Parisian and retired engineer, said the march was big, but not compared with the social action for which Paris was famous. “It’s not so big as if it were [for] salaries and political matters."