Swedish teen climate activist rallies students in Hamburg

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg who has sparked school strikes worldwide against global warming joined thousands of students in the northern German city Friday, urging them to stay angry and fight for change.

Swedish teen climate activist rallies students in Hamburg
The young activist Greta Thunberg stands in Hamburg's main square, with a sign in Swedish proclaiming a school strike for the climate. Photo: DPA

“Yes, we are angry. We are angry because the older generations are continuing to steal our future right now,” the 16-year-old activist told a cheering crowd from a stage in Hamburg.

“For way too long the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything to fight the climate crisis,” she said.

SEE ALSO: Meet the 15-year-old Swedish girl on strike from school for the climate

“But we will make sure that they will not get away with it any longer. We will continue to school-strike until they do something.”

Her short speech drew loud applause in the northern port city, where police say some 4,000 demonstrators hit the streets, carrying signs that read “No more excuses, it's time to save our world” and “The climate is changing, why aren't we?”.

The Local looks at the movement sparked by Thurnberg. Video by Catherine Edwards. 

Other placards paid tribute to the Swedish teenager with slogans like “Make the world Greta again” and “Team Greta”, adorned with a drawing of her trademark braids.

With the “Fridays for Future” school strikes, Thunberg has inspired a global movement that began with her solitary protest outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm last August.

Since then, tens of thousands of pupils in cities across Europe and as far away as Australia, Uganda, Mexico and the United States have walked out of their Friday classes to push for more ambitious carbon-cutting targets.

Now the face of her generation's climate activism, Thunberg has used her current school holidays to join protests elsewhere, marching in Paris, Brussels and Antwerp.

She has also taken her message to world leaders directly in recent months,  including at an EU conference last week where she urged the bloc to double its ambitions for greenhouse gas cuts.

Under the 2015 Paris deal to cap the rise in global warming to well below 2 
degrees Celsius, the European Union has pledged to cut emissions by at least  40 percent by 2030, compared to 1990.

Thunberg standing in front of Hamburg's Rathaus, or town hall. Photo: DPA

The “Fridays for Future” movement is planning a coordinated, global strike on March 15th that promises to be the biggest mobilisation in the campaign to date.

The school strikes have since December gained particularly strong momentum in Germany — a country that despite its green reputation is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, in part because of its ongoing reliance on coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

A government-appointed committee recently urged Germany to shut down its  coal-fired power plants by 2038 but critics say that isn't fast enough.

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UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote ‘of a century’

Tens of thousands of climate activists including Greta Thunberg descended on German cities Friday ahead of the weekend general election to crank up the pressure on the candidates to succeed Angela Merkel.

UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote 'of a century'
Greta Thunberg and other climate activists in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Speaking at a rally in front of the Reichstag parliament building in the run-up to Sunday’s poll, Thunberg told cheering Fridays for Future youth supporters that they needed to hold Germany’s political leaders to account past election day.

“It is clearer than ever that no political party is doing close to enough… not even their proposed commitments are close to being in line with what would be needed to fulfil the Paris Agreement,” on curbing climate change, she said.

“Yes, we must vote, you must vote, but remember that voting only will not be enough. We must keep going into the streets.”

As Germany’s top parties hold final rallies ahead of Sunday’s vote, the Fridays for Future youth marches claim the political class has let down the younger generation.

“The political parties haven’t taken the climate catastrophe seriously enough,” Luisa Neubauer, who runs the group’s German chapter, said.

She said Germany, as one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, had an outsize responsibility to set an example, with time running out to reverse destructive trends.

“That is why we are calling this the election of a century,” she said.

The race has boiled down to a two-way contest between Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, the moderate finance minister, and Armin Laschet from Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

Polls give Scholz a small lead of about 26 percent over Laschet at around 22 percent, with the candidate from the ecologist Greens, Annalena Baerbock, trailing in the mid-teens.

Despite the urgency of the climate issue for a majority of Germans, particularly in the aftermath of deadly floods in the west of the country in July, this has failed to translate into strong support for the relatively inexperienced Baerbock.

She told Die Welt newspaper that she hoped Friday’s rally would give her party “tailwinds” heading into the vote. “The next government has to be a climate government – that will only work with a strong Green party.”   

More than 400 “climate strikes” are planned across Germany, with the Swedish Thunberg, who inspired the movement, expected to speak outside the Reichstag parliament building.

Thousands gathered on the lawn there from late morning bearing signs reading “Climate now, homework later”, “It’s our future” and simply “Vote”.

“Climate is an important issue and if this continues things are going to get worse and worse,” 14-year-old pupil Louise Herr told AFP.

Gathering under the banners “We are young and need the world!” and “Everything for the climate”, the activists are arguing that “climate crisis is this century’s biggest problem”.

READ ALSO: Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

 ‘Unfair burden’

The activists will be part of a global climate strike in more than 1,000 communities around the world, Fridays for Future said.

Their central demand is to limit the warming of the Earth to maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The Paris agreement set a goal of reducing global warming by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with an aspiration to go further and cap the rise to 1.5 Celsius.

Despite Merkel’s vocal support of climate protection measures, Germany has repeatedly failed in recent years to meet its emission reduction targets under the pact.

In a landmark ruling in April, Germany’s constitutional court found the government’s plans to curb CO2 emissions “insufficient” to meet the targets of the Paris agreement and placed an “unfair burden” on future generations.

The Fridays for Future movement launched global school strikes more than two years ago arguing that time was running out to stop irreversible damage from the warming of the planet.

Demonstrators take to the streets in Berlin to call for urgent climate action. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Luca Bruno

In September 2019, it drew huge crowds in cities and towns around the world including 1.4 million protesters in Germany, according to organisers.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on its weekly rallies but the election campaign in Europe’s top economy has revitalised the

“The climate crisis cannot be solved through party politics alone,” Thunberg told reporters ahead of her appearance in Berlin.

“We can’t just vote for change, we also have to be active democratic citizens and go out on the streets and demand action.”


Greens as junior partner?

Around 60.4 million Germans are called to the polls on Sunday and most voters cite climate protection among their top priorities.

All three leading parties have said they aim to implement a climate protection agenda if elected, with the Greens presenting the most ambitious package of measures.

However the Fridays for Future activists have said even the Greens’ official programme falls short of what is needed to stick to the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise.

The Greens want to end coal energy use by 2030 instead of the current 2038. They also want the production of combustion engine cars to end from the same year.

While the party is expected to fall far short of its ambition to win the election Sunday and place Baerbock in the chancellery, polls indicate it has a good chance of joining a ruling coalition as a junior partner under Scholz or Laschet.

By Deborah Cole