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Gurugram students protest inaction on key climate promises

The event was part of an international strike by school students, taking place in over 1,000 cities and towns across the world. A simultaneous protest by school children was also held in Connaught Place, New Delhi.

gurgaon Updated:
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Gurugram
Close to 400 students from private and public schools in the city on Friday morning gathered at Wazirabad Bundh in Sector 53 to protest against the state and central government’s inaction on climate change. (Parveen Kumar/HT Photo)

Close to 400 students from private and public schools in the city on Friday morning gathered at Wazirabad Bundh in Sector 53 to protest against the state and central government’s inaction on climate change.

The event was part of an international strike by school students, taking place in over 1,000 cities and towns across the world. A simultaneous protest by school children was also held in Connaught Place, New Delhi.

In Gurugram, the protest was first proposed by students of various private schools, who then roped in support of their respective institutes. “Students were allowed to miss morning classes keeping in mind the scale and importance of today’s global protest,” said a teacher accompanying a group of students from Scottish High School.

“We were expecting numbers to be slightly less as some schools have exams going on, but despite that there was a substantial turnout,” said Puneeta Chadha, a parent who helped organise the event. The protest was organised at a site adjacent to American Excelsior School, where artist Arunkumar HG had, earlier this month, installed multiple art installations made from plastic and electronic waste, and discarded automobile parts. Under one such installation, titled ‘The Toxic Chamber’, students set up a stage and held talks, performed songs and skits.

A group of students from Heritage School wrote and performed a rap song on the effects of overconsumption of natural resources, which was received well by their peers, many of whom had come wearing air pollution masks as a sign of protest.

A band from One World School of Music also performed renditions of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and The Police’s ‘Message in a Bottle’, songs whose lyrics can be easily related to climate change and the conflicts it creates.

Among the issues discussed by students were the Haryana government’s move to amend the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), which students said goes against India’s commitment at the Paris Summit to increasing the global carbon sink.

Daksh, a student of Heritage School, said, “Forests play an important role in absorbing atmospheric carbon, which is responsible for trapping heat in the atmosphere. Removing so many acres of forest will worsen the effects of climate change in the region.” He added that such a move not only affects the local environment, but would also reflects poorly on the country’s image in the international community. “It shows that India is not meeting its commitments in the global fight against climate change,” he said.

Students carried placards and posters bearing slogans including ‘Our solution? Stop pollution!’ and ‘There is no plan(et) B’. One student from Pathways school said that she and her friends had spent the past two days painting these signs especially for the event. “We will use these at future protests as well,” she said, requesting she not be named.

These protests, which were initiated by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunburg, come at a critical moment in the international effort to stave off global warming. The IPCC report warns that to minimize extreme weather events, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020, and thereafter dip by 45%. A 2018 UNEP report, however, shows these efforts are well off track.

“It is time we raised our voices to let those at the top know we are tracking these movements, and we expect them to be taken seriously,” said student Adya Dhar Gupta, addressing the gathering.

Students also drew attention to multiple reports that have emerged over the last year highlighting the poor state of air quality in Gurugram. Manya Anandi from Shri Ram School said, “Our CO2 levels have increased by 28% since 1959. Yet, we see the government prioritise ease of doing business for big companies, which emit these gases over basic environmental governance.”

Another student, Vir, pointed out that India has been increasingly encouraging more exploitation of coal, and supporting businesses that extract and use coal, instead of focusing on innovations in renewable energy. “India releases the third highest concentration of greenhouse gases after China and the USA. A bulk of this comes from coal production and usage, and needs to curbed with effective policies,” he stressed.

Kanika Chawla, director, Centre for Energy Finance at the Council on Environment and Water, said, “Such civil society movements are essential in mainstreaming complex issues, such as climate change. Especially in an election year, they could help make air pollution, clean energy and carbon emissions into poll issues.”

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