Thousands of protestors, many of them school students, gather in Sydney, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, calling for action to guard against climate change. Australia's acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack has described ongoing climate rallies as "just a…
Thousands of protesters gather in Sydney, Sept. 20, 2019, calling for action against climate change. Australia's acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack described climate rallies as "just a disruption" that should have been held on a weekend.

NEW YORK - Thousands of students took to the streets of Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries Friday to kick off a global strike demanding world leaders gathering for a U.N. Climate Action Summit adopt urgent measures to stop an environmental catastrophe.

“We didn’t light it, but we’re trying to fight it,” read one sign carried by a student in Sydney, as social media posts showed huge demonstrations around the country including outback towns like Alice Springs.

“The oceans are rising and so are we,” read another sign held by a protester wearing school uniform in Melbourne.

Similar protests, inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, are planned in some 150 countries Friday. The aim is for students and others from around the world to speak in one voice about the impending effects of climate change on the planet.

"Soon the sun will rise on Friday the 20th of September 2019. Good luck Australia, The Philippines, Japan and all the Pacific Islands. You go first!" Thunberg posted Thursday on Instagram. 

By early afternoon, the Sydney protesters were overflowing out of a 34-hectare (84-acre) open space in the city. Similar crowds were reported in Brisbane and other state capitals.

Danielle Porepilliasana, a Sydney high school student, had a blunt message for politicians like Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who told parliament  Thursday that students should stay in class.

“World leaders from everywhere are telling us that students need to be at school doing work,” she said, wearing anti-coal earrings. “I’d like to see them at their parliaments doing their jobs for once.”

Solo start

Thunberg has galvanized young people around the world since she started protesting alone with a sign outside the Swedish parliament building in August 2018. Over the past year, young people in other communities have staged scattered strikes in solidarity with her Fridays for Future movement. 

FILE - Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, speaks in front of a crowd of people after sailing into New York harbor aboard the Malizia II, Aug. 28, 2019.

In conjunction with the U.N. summit this week, organizers on Friday will hold coordinated strikes around the world for a third time, with Thunberg spearheading a march and rally in New York, home of U.N. headquarters. 

In a show of support, New York City education officials will excuse the absences of any of its 1.1 million public school students who want to participate. 

Demonstrators will gather in Lower Manhattan at noon and march about a mile to Battery Park at the edge of the financial district for a rally featuring speeches and music. 

Thunberg, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in March, sailed to New York from England aboard a zero-carbon-emissions vessel to partake in the U.N. summit. 

It brings together world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels. 

Effects being felt

Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has already led to droughts and heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and floods, scientists say. 

Carbon emissions climbed to a record high last year, despite a warning from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that output of the gases must be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilize the climate. 

FILE - Youths demonstrate for climate change during a "Fridays for Future" school strike, in front of the Ecology Ministry in Paris, France, Feb. 15, 2019.

Organizers said the demonstrations would take different forms, but all aim to promote awareness of climate change and demand political action to curb contributing factors to climate change, namely carbon emissions. 

Demonstrators in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, planned to dance on the beach in a celebratory pledge to protect their natural heritage. Protesters in Istanbul were heading to a public park for a climate festival with concerts and workshops scheduled throughout the day. 

On Wednesday, Thunberg appeared before several committees of the U.S. Congress to testify about the next generation's view on climate change. In lieu of testimony, she submitted a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that urged rapid, unprecedented changes in the way people live to keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees C by 2030. 

"I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take action," she said.