Thousands to hit streets of Madrid in climate change march

Thousands of activists from around the globe will simultaneously hit the streets of Madrid and Santiago (Chile) on Friday to demand urgent action on the climate crisis from world leaders attending the COP25 summit.

Thousands to hit streets of Madrid in climate change march
Photos: AFP

The main march will take place in Madrid on the sidelines of the UN climate conference, with a simultaneous rally in the Chilean capital, which had been due to host the 12-day gathering but was forced to pull out due to massive protests.

The COP25 opened on Monday with a stark warning from the UN about the “utterly inadequate” efforts of the world's major economies to curb carbon pollution, with protesters due to deliver their own message when the march begins at 1700 GMT.

Under the slogan “The world has woken up to the climate emergency”, tens of thousands of activists are expected to join the five-kilometre (three-mile) march from Atocha train station which will feature a significant number of Chilean groups.

Teen eco-warrior Greta Thunberg was also expected to join the rally after making a nearly three-week journey across the Atlantic by catamaran.

Famous for galvanizing a generation of youngsters to fight for the environment, the 16-year-old Swede, who refuses to fly by plane, had been en route to Chile when the venue was changed, forcing her to hitch a ride across the US and back to Europe.

Oscar-winning Spanish actor Javier Bardem, a vocal environmental activist, will also be at the protest, which will feature speeches, music and cultural performances.

'Avocados have more rights'

“We know it will be massive, we hope there will be hundreds of thousands of people in the street demanding urgent action,” march spokesman Pablo Chamorro told reporters.

“2019 has, without doubt, been the year in which people have woken up about the climate.”

Friday's march is going to be “an important global moment”, said Estefania Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Civil Society for Climate Action (SCAC) representing more than 150 Chilean and international groups.

“I come from Chile, a country where an avocado tree has more right to water than a person,” she told reporters.

The furious protests gripping Chile over social and economic inequality were “directly related to the environmental crisis”, she said of the most severe wave of unrest since Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship ended nearly 30 years ago.

“Today, climate action means social equality, it's not possible to have social equality without environmental equality,” she said. “Speeches are not enough, we need concrete actions that target climate ambition that will resolve these problems.”

Parallel 'Social Summit'

SCAC has been the driving force behind a week-long Social Summit for Climate Action, which begins on Saturday and runs parallel to the COP25, involving hundreds of events, lectures and workshops.

Indigenous groups will also have a visible presence, with Juan Antonio Correa of the Minga Indigena collective saying their lands and peoples were “the first to be affected by climate change”.

“Our traditional and historic practices and the relationship that indigenous people have with Mother Earth is an alternative and a way in which modern society can face up to the climate crisis,” he said.

“We are trying to engage and bring about concrete actions to improve the situation for everyone, not just for indigenous peoples but for all of society.”

In their manifesto, groups involved in the march address a clear message to the decision-makers from the nearly 200 countries attending the UN summit that began on Monday.

“We demand that governments participating in COP25 recognise the current climate inaction and state that the insufficient ambition of their agreements will lead the planet to a disastrous global warming scenario,” they wrote.

Addressing the nations that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, they said it was “irresponsible” that just a year before the treaty becomes operational, there was still no “emissions reduction plan that is compatible with scientific estimates”.

“We return to the streets.. demanding real, ambitious measures from the politicians from all around the globe meeting for the COP25.”

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In Pictures: Spain’s flood-devastated towns taken on massive clean-up

Spanish authorities and communities are facing a huge clean-up mission after flash floods provoked by intense rain washed away cars, filled homes with mud and knocked out power in many areas of the country.

In Pictures: Spain's flood-devastated towns taken on massive clean-up
Residents clean a street in Cobisa, Toledo province, after a flash flood destroyed much of their homes and belongings on Wednesday. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said emergency services were “working tirelessly” to protect people and restore “normality” to places affected by flooding “as soon as possible”.

One of the worst-hit areas was Alcanar, a town 200 kilometres (160 miles) south of Barcelona, where huge torrents of fast-moving water surged through the streets, sweeping away everything in its path.

Cars were dragged down to the seashore in Alcanar as huge torrents of fast-moving water surged through the streets, sweeping away everything in its path. Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP

Firefighters and local residents used brooms and hoses on Thursday to clear the streets of mud, tree branches and other debris.

A bulldozer removes mud from the streets of Alcanar. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

“It seemed like the world was ending,” Alcanar mayor Joan Roig told radio Rac 1, adding the town was “devastated”.

Two Alcanar residents scrape up the mud that engulfed their homes during the flash flood. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

Regional authorities relocated 83 people into hotels or a local sports facility.

The storm knocked out power to 10,000 homes in the northeastern region of Catalonia but as of Thursday only 200 residences lacked electricity, a spokesman for power firm Endesa said.

Heavy rain also fell in Spain’s northern Navarra region and in Madrid, forcing the closure on Wednesday of several metro stations due to flooding.

The Toledo province municipalities of Cobisa, Argés and Polán also bore the brunt of the torrential rain in Spain this week, where the force of the floods knocked down the wall of one local who shouted “Help!” desperately as a wave of mud and debris approached his home. 

Emergency services rescued several people from cars that were caught in rising waters but no fatalities were reported.

Destroyed furniture belonging to Cobisa neighbours among the rubble and debris left behind by the floods. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

Much of central and northern Spain, along with the Balearic Islands, remained on alert for storms on Thursday, according to the national weather office, Aemet.

The Murcia town of Aguilas was among the most affected by the floods on Thursday, having already experienced similarly destructive weather in March 2021. 

The heavy rain that’s caused chaos throughout much of Spain over the past days is expected to mostly subside on Friday. 

Debris and mud cover a street in Cobisa. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

Torrential rains are becoming ever more frequent in Spain, with flooding causing seven deaths in the southeast in September 2019, while another storm left 13 dead in the Balearic island of Mallorca a year earlier.

Residents clean a street in Cobisa. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

Experts say global warming has increased the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, making episodes of intense rainful more likely to happen, raising the risk of flooding.

WATCH: Devastating floods and torrential rain hit much of Spain