Japan’s Young Climate Activists Are Taking a Cue From Greta Thunberg

Date: 2020-03-16 09:52:41

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Young climate activists in Asia are changing tactics, filing lawsuits and developing coordinated online protests, a shift that is accelerating as leaders urge people to avoid public gatherings because of the spread of the coronavirus.

In Japan, students earlier this month protested in the streets outside a bank that funds coal projects. Now, Isao Sakai, one of the founding members of Fridays for Future Tokyo, said the group is working on ways to develop effective online campaigns.

“We are considering shifting our strategy to more online action” because of the virus, Sakai, 19, said by phone on Monday. But “if things do not get worse, our intention is we want to do a strike.”

This month, Swedish youth climate protest leader Greta Thunberg, who started the Friday strike student street protest movement, urged young activists to avoid crowds because of the virus.

In South Korea, high school senior Kim Yujin and 29 other young campaigners are suing the South Korean government in court to push for more aggressive emission-reduction targets.

Kim’s group canceled a plan for a protest in front of the city hall in Seoul on March 13, the day it submitted the complaint to the Constitutional court, because of the virus. The group instead is getting signatures online and asking people to retweet and share social-media posts.

During the Friday briefing, the students were all wearing facial masks.

“We want drastic change,” said Kim in Seoul, whose case argues that South Korea’s pledge to reduce emissions almost a quarter by 2030 from 2017 levels is far below what’s required to meet the Paris Agreement. “We did what we could to make changes by meeting government officials,” she said. “It wasn’t enough to make the political leaders implement better policies.”

In Tokyo, Sakai’s group protested on March 6 outside the headquarters of Mizuho Financial Group Inc., a large coal financier. When he tried to deliver a video to Mizuho President Tatsufumi Sakai, he was turned away by security guards. Mizuho declined to comment.

The video showed Japanese students with homemade cardboard signs, many filmed at home, imploring the bank to halt its support for the fossil fuel.

“Some adults say our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will hurt economic growth, but this way of thinking is very outdated,” said Kim in Seoul. “If we actively respond to the changing climate, it can help us be more sustainable, which in turn will help boost the economy.”

Her message to deepen carbon cuts echoes a November report from United Nations Environment Program that said nations must halve their 2018 pollution levels by 2030 to meet the climate pact goal of limiting heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). South Korea has revised down its emission reduction targets twice since 2010.

Youth climate groups from India to New Zealand have sought to file lawsuits against governments.

“Young people and lawsuits — I know these words don’t go together,” said Kim. But “young people are the ones who will have to survive through the threat of climate change.”

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