STOCKHOLM/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg urged European politicians on Friday to focus on a climate crisis instead of “bickering”, as students walked out of classrooms around the world to back her demands for action to stop global warming.
With the 28 countries of the European Union voting to choose the bloc’s next parliament this week, 16-year-old Thunberg said the threat of societal breakdown posed by runaway climate change overshadowed every other campaign issue.
“If the EU were to decide to seriously fight the climate crisis, it would mean a decisive global change. And the EU election should reasonably only be about this. But it isn’t. Not at all,” Thunberg told thousands of supporters gathered in Kungstradgarden square in Stockholm’s banking district.
“This election campaign is about politicians bickering with other politicians about other issues that in a bigger perspective won’t be of any significance at all,” she said.
Climate change has moved up the political agenda, with a wave of new support for Green parties in northern Europe. But much of the debate during European campaigning has tended to focus on issues, such as immigration and austerity.
Thunberg began her protest for climate action alone in August outside the Swedish parliament, but she has since drawn support around the world from children, teenagers and adults who worry that politicians and business leaders are not doing enough to heed the warnings of scientists.
The “Fridays for Future” protest movement has grown exponentially, with an estimated 1.5 million young people taking part in a global school strike on March 15. Demonstrations were planned in more than 100 countries on Friday, with coordinators hoping hundreds of thousands of students would join in.
“We are putting pressure on the governments and we want them to act fast and now,” said David Wicker, 14, who joined some 7,500 young protesters in Brussels.
“NO PLANET B”
In Paris, Celia Benmessaoud, 15, held up a sign saying “There’s Is No Planet B,” and said she hoped the school strike would change the world — echoing hopes voiced by participants from New Zealand and India to Bulgaria and across Europe.
“I’m worried about all the weather disasters. Everytime we have huge a bushfire here another animal might go extinct,” said Nina Pasqualini, a 13-year-old at a rally in the Australian city of Melbourne that was led by the civil disobedience movement Extinction Rebellion.
“The government isn’t doing as much as it should. It’s just scary for younger generations,” she said, holding up a placard seeking to stop a proposed new coal mine in Australia.
Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has led to droughts and heatwaves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and devastating floods, scientists say.
Global carbon emissions hit a record high last year, despite a warning from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that output of the gases will have to be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilize the climate.
For more than 40 years, scientists have warned that burning too much coal, oil and gas could cause dangerous climate change.
Sophie Hanford, a national organizer in New Zealand, and the Melbourne organizers said they anticipated a huge student-led strike in September that would include adults and workers.
“There’ll definitely be more. This is only the beginning,” Hanford said on New Zealand’s Breakfast television show.
Reporting by Sonali Paul and Charlotte Greenfield in Wellington, Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm, Clement Rossignol in Brussels, Bart Biesemans in Brussels, Rachel Joyner in Paris and Matthew Green in London; Writing by Sonali Paul and Matthew Green; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Edmund Blair