Updated at 5 a.m. ET
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including many young activists, turned out for rallies across Australia on Friday, kicking off a day of worldwide protests to demand action on climate change.
More than 800 marches were planned on Friday in the United States, expected to draw on thousands of young people skipping school. Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, the figurehead of the climate school strike movement, is expected to attend a rally in New York’s Thomas Paine Park.
Similar rallies were getting underway in dozens of countries, including the United Kingdom, France and Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to announce government measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The protests, billed as a “global climate strike,” come ahead of a planned U.N. Climate Action Summit that begins in New York on Monday. In March, a similar protest inspired by Thunberg drew crowds around the world including thousands of young students who missed school to attend.
Organizers say more than 300,000 people gathered at more than 100 rallies in cities across Australia, most notably in Melbourne, where an estimated 100,000 turned out and Sydney, which reportedly saw 80,000 attend. Tens of thousands more are said to have marched in the capital, Canberra, as well as Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.
The numbers of participants could not be immediately verified.
In Sydney, Moemoana, 18, came from Wollongong to protest on behalf of her native Samoa, one of thousands of low-lying islands around the world that are particularly threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change.
“The Pacific Islands are meters above sea level because of climate change and it’s a scary future for our islands,” she was quoted by The Guardian Australia as saying. “We want to urge people to take some action.”
Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas – both major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Protesters marched to demand that government and businesses commit to a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is in the U.S. for a state dinner with President Trump, has been criticized for not including the U.N. climate summit on his itinerary.
At least 2,000 companies in Australia gave employees time off to attend the rallies, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. Meanwhile, the country’s acting prime minister, Michael McCormack, speaking in Melbourne, called the rallies “just a disruption” and expressed displeasure with students attending the protests.
“These sorts of rallies should be held on a weekend where it doesn’t actually disrupt business, it doesn’t disrupt schools, it doesn’t disrupt universities,” McCormack told reporters according to The Associated Press.
In Kirabati, a Pacific island chain that experts fear could be inundated by sea level rise in the next 25 years, some signs carried by protesters read: “We are not sinking, we are fighting.”
Some 200 young activists marched to the Ministry of Environment in Bangkok, Thailand, where they dropped to the ground in mock death to demand that the government declare a climate emergency.
“We’re young, but we’re not dumb. We know it’s happening. We need change. We demand better,” 11-year-old Ralyn “Lilly” Satidtanasarn told The Bangkok Post.
In India, dozens of students and activists rallied in the capital, New Delhi, outside the country’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, carrying banners that read “Eco, not ego!” and chanting “I want to breathe clean.”