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Students' strike for climate movement gathers momentum

Fridays for Future demonstration, Jan 2019 (L. Lenz)Fridays for Future demonstration, Jan 2019 (L. Lenz)An international movement of pupils and students called School Strike for Climate, also known in different countries as Fridays for Future, Youth for Climate or Youth Strike 4 Climate, is gathering pace. Instead of attending classes, thousands of students all over the world are taking part in demonstrations to demand action to prevent further global warming and climate change. The movement began when Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, staged a solo protest outside the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) in August 2018.

Greta Thunberg (Photo: Jan Ainali)Greta Thunberg (Photo: Jan Ainali)

Greta Thunberg

On 20th August 2018 Greta Thunberg, then 15 years old, decided to not attend school until 9th September, the date of the Swedish general election. Her decision followed a summer of heat waves and wildfires in her home country. She demanded that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions as laid down in the Paris Agreement. She protested by sitting outside the Riksdag every day during school hours with the sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for the climate). She announced that she would continue to strike every Friday until Sweden conformed with the Paris Agreement. Gaining worldwide attention, Greta inspired school students across the globe to take part in similar strikes.

Greta's bicycle, Stockholm (Salgo60)Greta's bicycle, Stockholm (Salgo60)In December 2018 Greta addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference and in January 2019 was invited to talk to the World Economic Forum at Davos. She told Davos attendees: "Our house is on fire ... I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

Pictured right is Greta's bicycle outside the Swedish parliament in September 2018. The message reads: "Climate change must be treated as a crisis! Climate is the most important issue!"


Student strikes

Fridays for Future march, Berlin, Jan 2019 (Lenz)Fridays for Future march, Berlin, Jan 2019 (Lenz)In November 2018, thousands of school students in Australia followed Greta Thunberg's lead, ignoring Prime Minister Scott Morrison's call for "more learning in schools and less activism". In December student strikes took place in at least in 270 cities across the world. The largest mass strikes to date took place on 17th and 18th January 2019, when at least 45,000 students came out to protest in Switzerland and Germany alone. In Brussels, students carried banners with slogans such as "Dinosaurs thought they had time too", "Be part of the solution, not the pollution" and "There's no planet B".

Fridays For Future slogan, Feb 2019 (Lenz)Fridays For Future slogan, Feb 2019 (Lenz)

Global day of action

The largest and most widespread strikes so far will take place on Friday 15th March 2019. On this day, hundreds of thousands of children across the globe are expected to walk out of school. Their action is supported by some of the world's most influential environmental groups. So far, around 500 events are planned to take place in more than 50 countries. 

In an open letter to The Guardian newspaper published on 1st March 2019, a group of 150 students, including Greta Thunberg, wrote:

"We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future ... We finally need to treat the climate crisis as a crisis. It is the biggest threat in human history and we will not accept the world’s decision-makers’ inaction that threatens our entire civilization ... We, the young, have started to move. We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not ... We demand the world’s decision-makers take responsibility and solve this crisis. You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves."

Coal-fired power station, Germany (Arnold Paul)Coal-fired power station, Germany (Arnold Paul)

Criticism and support

While many climate scientists have expressed their support for the movement, the students' strikes have not been universally welcomed by governments and education authorities. Some have criticized the students for skipping school and threatened them with exclusion.

The Fridays for Future movement has, however, won support from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. She said students might be frustrated at the time taken to move away from coal-based energy but asked them to understand it was a challenge. "I very much welcome that young people, school students, demonstrate and tell us to do something fast about climate change," she said.


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