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14 Mar 2019, 13:24
Rachel Waldholz

Thousands of German students to join global strike for climate action

Protesters in Berlin on Jan. 25, 2019. Photo: Leonhard Lenz, Wikimedia Commons
Protesters in Berlin on Jan. 25, 2019. Photo: Leonhard Lenz, Wikimedia Commons

Students in Germany and around the world are expected to walk out of school Friday for what is being billed as a “global strike” to demand action on climate change. Organisers hope it will be the largest demonstration yet in the series of school strikes that have swept across nations from Germany to Australia. Strikes are planned in more than 1600 cities in at least 100 countries, according to a tally from organisers, with participation especially high across Europe and in Germany. 

The "Fridays for Future" movement hopes to reach a new peak this week, with protests planned in more than 200 cities in Germany alone. The strikes are popping up faster than national organizers can track them, student organiser Linus Steinmetz of Göttingen told Clean Energy Wire in the run-up to the Friday event. 

The protests come as German lawmakers are already struggling with the issue of climate change. Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition is supposed to introduce its signature Climate Action Law this spring, but is split over how to proceed. Meanwhile, lawmakers must decide how to implement the recommendations of Germany's coal commission, which proposed ending the use of coal entirely by 2038. The school strikes have provoked reactions across the political spectrum. Merkel herself said she “welcomes” the student protests, but some conservative lawmakers have been more critical, and the strikes have prompted a fierce debate over whether students should be allowed to skip school.

German students have been at the forefront of the global movement, with local groups across the country staging regular strikes. Germany’s Fridays for Future movement has become an example for other countries, said Steinmetz.

That’s in part, he said, because students in Germany feel betrayed.

“We’ve always been convinced that our government was very proactive on climate,” said Steinmetz, who is 15 and in 9th grade. “But now over the last couple of years, especially young people have become more and more frustrated with being lied to like that, because it just is not true.”

Germany has admitted that it will likely miss its 2020 climate targets by a wide margin.

“We just hope that by being so active on the 15th, we can shift the political dialogue and the political discourse [so that] climate change is tackled as a crisis, and not a technical problem,” Steinmetz said.

Steinmetz was part of a delegation of students who visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week. The delegation told lawmakers that they intend to make climate change a focus of the European Parliament elections coming in May.

“We’ve always been convinced that our government was very proactive on climate. But now over the last couple of years, especially young people have become more and more frustrated with being lied to like that, because it just is not true.”

Linus Steinmetz, 15-year-old student

EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete praised the student protests, according to media reports.

"The young Europeans that are taking to the streets - and are doing so in growing numbers and in more and more cities across Europe – will be in the prime of their adult life in 2050” when some of the worst impacts of climate change are expected, Cañete said. “I welcome their engagement, they have the biggest stake in the fight against climate change.”

In Berlin, thousands of students are expected to turn out for a demonstration in central Invalidenpark on Friday. But large protests are also expected elsewhere. Felix Quartier, a 16-year-old student organizer in Freiburg, said he is hoping for several thousand protesters there, where organizers plan a “die in” in the city center, where protesters lie down to demonstrate the fatal effects of climate change.

“I personally hope for more than 6,000 people,” Quartier said.

The strikes were inspired by Swedish high school student Greta Thunberg, who began skipping school last August to protest outside the parliament in Stockholm. They have since spread around the world. Students are demanding that governments adhere to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Currently, almost no countries are on track to meet their targets under the Paris Agreement.

Earlier this week, a group of researchers from across the German-speaking world released a statement supporting the students. It currently has more than 19,000 signatures.

The petition organizer, Gregor Hagedorn, told klimafakten.de that researchers hope to combat criticism of the young protesters.

“If the young people are accused that they are not yet educated, that they do not know enough, we can back them up,” Hagedorn said.

Student organizer Steinmetz said that ultimately, the students are hoping to transform the political debate.

“We hope to change the climate change policies that exist at the moment to their core,” Steinmetz told CLEW. “So that’s a rather radical expectation and hope.”

All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)” . They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.
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