LAMBTON High School student Alexa Stuart has a simple answer for people who challenge her about taking time off school on September 20 to march in a climate change action strike.
"Once our governments are doing what they should do on climate change action we will happily go back to school," she said.
"But we won't stand by for a future that's looking like it's seriously at risk."
Ms Stuart, fellow Lambton High student Abby Manning and West Wallsend High student Kalleb Pritchard, are just some of the Hunter students who have organised this Friday's student strike action to be held in the days before the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York from September 23.
It is the third strike Ms Stuart has taken part in since November, following the leadership of Swedish school student Greta Thunberg, whose personal climate change strike in August, 2018 led to a global movement.
Ms Stuart said fighting for climate change action was the best remedy for the hopelessness and powerlessness many young people feel while governments continue to champion coal and other fossil fuels and fail to provide credible plans to meet the Paris Agreement commitments.
"The way to deal with the powerless feelings is to act and do all you can. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't do everything in my power now to demand the action that's needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Adults being involved gives us hope," she said, following growing calls for action from some community leaders.
Last week University of Newcastle vice-chancellor Professor Alex Zelinsky supported staff and students being involved in the September 20 action, saying the student strikes were "sobering and inspiring".
Anglican Bishop of Newcastle Peter Stuart, who took part in a Tasmanian student march nearly four decades ago against the Franklin Dam proposal, said society is "enriched when our young people care about issues and give voice to their concerns".
"One of the highest priority issues has to be climate and the sustainability of our world. Today's students will become tomorrow's leaders. Their voice makes an impact right now. It is important that they have a voice on things that affect them now and into the future," Bishop Stuart said.
The voice of the people "was an important part in changing that reckless proposal" to dam the Franklin, he said.
But he is challenged by the need for young people to strike to be included in the public debate about their future, and the lack of forums for young people to express their views.
Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes supported the right of young people to rally for climate action and said the "right of protest and demonstration are important parts of our democracy".
"It is critical that a constructive approach is taken on the issue of climate change. Divisive politics over the past decade have failed to deliver climate action. Without collaboration and a shared commitment, especially with workers in our industrial sectors and their representatives, this issue will not be solved," Ms Nelmes said.
Newcastle City Council will shortly complete a 5MW solar farm to power more than half its operational needs and was committed to power the remainder of its operations with 100 per cent renewable energy from January 1, 2020, despite "inaction from other levels of government", she said.
Port of Newcastle chief executive officer Craig Carmody said people were entitled to express their views and "there would not be many opposed to the underlying view that we need to be talking about protecting the future of the economy and the environment".
"Coal remains a major contributor to the region's economy and the port's trade. However, as Newcastle and the Hunter knows well from its long industrial past, you must plan for the future while you can. We know we must diversify the Hunter economy. The question is only how we best manage the transition, taking into account a range of economic, environmental, societal and political factors," Mr Carmody said.
At the United Nations Climate Action Summit from September 23 countries, including Australia, will be asked to present "concrete, realistic plans" to stop the increase of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, reduce emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade and reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Ms Stuart said recent comments by Federal leaders, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Pacific Islands Forum and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud's doubts about man-made climate change were discouraging, but would not stop young people from speaking out.
"I'm personally scared for my future but I'm not willing to sit and wait on governments and other people in power who are trashing it," she said.
"It's going to be our generations that have to pay."
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