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Environment

Youth climate strikers call for EU election vote

media Climate marchers outside the Opera in central Paris, 24 May 2019. RFI/Isabelle Martinetti

Thousands of young activists in France skipped school on Friday for a second wave of global protests to urge politicians and businesses to take urgent action on global warming. The strikes coincide with EU parliamentary elections that the youth want to be all about climate change.

Waving banners and brandishing slogans which included "There is no planet B" and "If our planet can change, why can't we?" hundreds of young environmental activists took to the streets of Paris and other cities on Friday to call for meaningful action on climate change.

"We have heard a lot of words from politicians, now we want action," 20-year old Antoine Bondet told RFI.

"We want action for the next generation," said Bondet, who travelled to Paris from Amiens in Picardy especially for the march.

The strikes are inspired by student Greta Thunberg, who has become a global figurehead since protesting outside Sweden's parliament in 2018.

On Friday, Thunberg again passionately called on youths in Europe and around the world to join the movement and prevent the older generation from leaving a deadly legacy to the next.

"We need to move right now," insisted Bondet. "In a few years, I want a family, I want to have a child. And I want a planet to leave them."

Friday's strike came two months after the biggest environmental protest in history and two days before France was due to head to the polls for EU elections.

EU climate vote

Traditionally, young people don't vote. Seventy-two percent of voters below the age of 24 abstained in the last European elections. This year, that could change.

"It's important for us to put pressure on the political leaders," commented Hugo Viel, a member of the NGO Climates.

"We need people to go to vote for climate. The European level is really important to tackle climate change," he told RFI.

In the background, large crowds gathered at the steps of Opera Garnier in the heart of Paris, chanted "1, 2, 3 degrees, is a crime against humanity," in echo of the claims by rights groups that failure to tackle global warming could amount to "one of the greatest intergenerational human rights violations in history."

For Viel, the future of the planet is everyone's business.

"Yes, the problem we're facing today has been made by the previous generation. But climate change is now and the consequences are now. It's an issue for everybody."

Overwhelming scientific evidence of the emergency facing the planet and the public's increasing concern about it, has led nearly 500 candidates from across Europe to commit to taking urgent action if elected. 

Action now

In the face of a grim future, there was some humour among the crowds Friday, with youths waving slogans such as: "The only thing that should give you a temperature is the flu, not climate change".

In France, President Emmanuel Macron has publicly welcomed the student protests, even as his policies have been criticised as too limited by environmental activists.

The state is currently being sued by a group of NGOs for failing to do enough to fight climate change.

So what should be done?

Nineteen-year old Jan Kazo, who travelled from Toulouse, reckons the government should do more to put in place eco-friendly measures.

"The state can tax big companies, put a fuel tax on jet kerosene for planes, scrap plastic bags or create more bike lanes and improve public transport," she told RFI.

And what is she doing on a daily basis?

"I use my bike as much as I can, and switch off the lights when I'm not using them. Simple gestures," she says, which she hopes will encourage others to do the same.

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