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France

Hundreds of thousands of students protest globally over climate change

media French teenagers out in full force on the streets of Paris Rfi / Alison Hird

All across the world today, students skipped class to attend the first global protest against government inaction on climate change.

In the thousands, students protested in many of the capitals in Europe, Africa and the Americas.

The movement has grown in strength and numbers since 16 year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, began her protest on a Friday in August 2018 outside of Sweden’s parliament during her school days.

Since then, she has held the same protest every Friday, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.

Her dedication to the cause got her nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and has set in motion the largest student-led demonstrations in history and the international movement called ‘Fridays for Future’ along with the online initiative, called #YouthStrike4Climate.

What do they want?

On this particular Friday March 15th, some tens of thousands of students across 80 countries were expected to hit the streets.

Across Europe and Asia, protesters chanted “Change…now!” and held banners that read “I hate climate change even more than school” and “If you don’t act like adults, we will”.

Their reason for coming together is to urge politicians and those in charge of making important decisions to take some concrete action to save the planet.

The fire that sparked this urgency came after Thunberg learned “there’s this thing called climate change and that it’s a very serious threat against our future”.

High levels of CO2

For three decades now, there have been warnings on the rising levels of carbon dioxide.

Already CO2 emissions hit record levels in 2017 and 2018.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum earlier this year in January, the young activist read aloud her thoughts on the matter urging the adults of today not to do what they can to ensure the younger generation “is hopeful”, but rather react as they would if a house was on fire: with solutions that fix the problem.

In an article co-written with Thunberg in the Guardian she adds “We’ve seen years of negotiations, pathetic deals on climate change, fossil fuel companies being given free rein to carve open our lands, drill beneath our soils and burn away our futures for their profit. We’ve seen fracking, deep sea drilling and coalmining continue. Politicians have known the truth about climate change and they’ve willingly handed over our future to profiteers whose search for quick cash threatens our very existence.”

And the students all over the world want the same.

Every year there are world meetings, such as the Conference of the Parties (COP) - the most recent being COP24 - which have created initiatives to tackle climate change, like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

But such grand gestures inevitably amount to talk and very little action.

Which is why these students led by their 16 year-old de facto leader are doing the only thing they can in a world run by politicians and lawmakers who stamp promises that do very little to bring about change: skip school to have their voices (hopefully) heard.

Protests to come

On Friday, Paris was the scene of France’s major demonstration, but some 220 planned protests were also planned across the country.

Some 40,000 people - mainly students - came out to protest in the capital.

 

Many travelled to Paris from other regions, such as Elisa, 17, from Normandy.

She carried a banner saying “la planète est plus chaude que ta meuf” (the planet is hotter than your girlfriend). Speaking to RFI, she acknowledged her slogan is "a bit provocative" but says "people will understand it and it will stay in their minds.”

Ailsa, 14 carried a banner saying "balance ton polluer" inspired by the 'balance ton porc' slogan from the female #MeToo movement.

Ailsa, 14, (centre) came out with her friends to defend the planet, Paris March 15, 2019 Rfi / Alison Hird

“Icebergs are melting, everything is polluted, we’re here today to defend and protect our planet. We’re polluting it, ruining it and we don’t even notice that in less than 40 years it’ll all be gone" explained the secondary school student. “This is the first time because my parents didn’t want me to miss classes. But I told them it was for a good reason.

"When we are old we want to have a planet that will be healthy. So we want to help even if just marching doesn't solve everything, but encouraging people to stop polluting is just great.”

Valentine, 17, said she was inspired by Greta Thunberg. "She’s really strong and I think it’s incredible everything she’s done, especially because she’s young and what she’s triggered is really important, and I’m really thankful to her for that. If she can do it so can we.”

Valentine, 17, came out to save planet, Paris March 15, 2019 Rfi / Alison Hird

On Saturday, even more protesters are expected to come out and join the students in what is being called the ‘March of the Century’, which will share the streets with the Yellow Vest protesters.

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