THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Thousands of Dutch children skipped school to join a global climate strike on Friday, blocking traffic and asking their leaders “how dare you?” in a reference to Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations.
Turnout at the march in The Hague exceeded expectations with organisers estimating the crowd at about 35,000. Police were forced to reroute the march to a location with more space.
Thunberg, 16, gave an impassioned address at the United Nations in New York this week, after millions of people worldwide joined a climate strike protest last Friday in the run-up to a U.N. climate summit.
“This strike is going to have a lot of effect when people keep showing up, not just today but also in the future and we see different kinds of people from all walks of life,” said protester Reinder Rustema.
Banging drums and holding pictures of Thunberg, protesters walked through the city centre with placards reading: “For the Greta good”, “Don’t be a fossil fool,” and “You will die of old age, we will die of climate change.”
“I understand their concerns, I believe they are being heard,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists at a weekly press briefing within earshot of the protests. “We have presented very ambitious plans to deal with these problems. But we have to do it in a smart way, which also creates jobs.”
Thunberg’s brief address electrified the start of the summit aimed at mobilising government and business to break international paralysis over carbon emissions, which hit record highs last year despite decades of warnings from scientists.
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you?” she said, her voice quavering with emotion.
The Netherlands, with 17 million inhabitants, generated less than 7 percent of all energy from sustainable sources in 2017, compared to 15 percent in Germany and over half of all energy in Sweden.
The government has pledged to halve CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by 2030, but by 2017 had only achieved a 13 percent cut.
Thunberg was taking part in a protest in Canada on Friday where U.N. aviation leaders were gathering in Montreal to discuss plane emissions targets.
Reporting by Esther Verkaik; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Janet Lawrence