Students around the world are missing classes to take to the streets to protest against their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming.
The co-ordinated ‘school strikes’, being held from the South Pacific to the edge of the Arctic Circle, were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.
Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, driven by social media-savvy students and dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change.
Greta, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was cheered for her blunt message to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, when she told them: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”
Friday’s rallies are expected to be one of the biggest international actions yet. Protests are being held in cities in more than 100 countries including Hong Kong; New Delhi, India; Wellington, New Zealand; and Oulo, Finland.
Berlin organiser Carla Reemtsma, a 20-year-old university student, said social media had been key in reaching people directly to co-ordinate the massive protests in so many different locations, noting that that she was in 50 WhatsApp groups and fielding 30,000 messages a day.
“It’s really important that people are getting together all over the world, because it’s affecting us all,” she said.
Some politicians have criticised the students, suggesting they should be spending their time in school, not on the streets.
“One can’t expect children and young people to see all of the global connections, what’s technically reasonable and economically possible,” said the head of Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner. “That’s a matter for professionals.”
But scientists have backed the protests, with thousands signing petitions in support of the students in Britain, Finland and Germany.
“We are the professionals and we’re saying the young generation is right,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of engineering at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.
“We should be incredibly grateful and appreciative of their bravery,” said Mr Quaschning, one of more than 23,000 German-speaking scientists to sign a letter of support this week. “Because in a sense, it’s incredibly brave not to go to school for once.”
Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect.
In 2015, world leaders agreed in Paris to a goal of keeping the Earth’s global temperature rise by the end of the century well below 2C, but the world is on track for an increase of 4C, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.
Mrs Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly welcomed the student protests, even as their policies have been criticised as too limited by environmental activists.
In France, activist groups launched legal action against authorities this week for failing to do enough to fight climate change, citing a similar successful effort in the Netherlands.
In Germany, environmental groups and experts have attacked government plans to continue using coal and natural gas for decades to come.
Activists say that countries like Germany should fully “decarbonise” by 2040, giving less-advanced nations a bit more time to wean themselves off fossil fuels while still meeting the Paris goal globally.
Other changes needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions include ramping up renewable energy production, reining in over-consumption culture spreading beyond the industrialised West and changing diets, experts say.
Picture: Thousands of Dublin students march from St Stephens green to Leinster House today, joining a global protest for action to tackle climate change, which sees public gatherings staged at more than 37 locations across Ireland. (Niall Carson/PA).