Over 200 ‘Fridays for Future’ climate demos taking place in Germany

Across Germany, many students are skipping class Friday to protest for the climate, sparking a huge nationwide debate.

Over 200 'Fridays for Future' climate demos taking place in Germany
A student holds up a sign Friday at a protest in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

On Friday, there were 1,650 “Fridays for Future” demonstrations planned in 105 countries, with over 200 of them in Germany.

The topic has created widespread debate across Germany, including among politicians.

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier came under fire for taking a private jet to a school climate change event in a town in northern Germany, which is around three hours away from Berlin by train.

'We are thousands on the street'

The growing “Fridays for Future” movement was started in the summer of 2018 when 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg skipped school to go on strike for climate protection.

Earlier in March, Thunberg herself joined over 4,000 students in Hamburg as they gathered in front of the city’s town hall on a cold and cloudy day.

SEE ALSO: Swedish teen climate activist rallies students in Hamburg

On Friday, big cities such as Berlin – which expects a demonstration of 10,000 students – have signed up to protest, as well as smaller cities all around the country.

“Today we're tens of thousands of people in the street. We will strike until you negotiate!” read the official Twitter account of Fridays for Future. 

In Germany there is also a growing “Oldies for Future” movement in which pensioners join their much-younger counterparts every Friday.

A subject of debate

A recent Germany-wide survey by the ZDF Politbarometer shows that the majority of Germans support the movement.

Graph prepared for The Local by Statista.

A total of 61 percent of those questioned said that they thought the student demonstrations were “good” for more climate protection. Only 38 percent found them to be “not good”.

For the survey, 1,285 people over the age of 18 were surveyed throughout Germany.

Steinmeier steps in – on a private jet

Politicians around Germany are taking note: the country's president Steinmeier paid a visit to a school in northern Germany last Friday – although he was criticized for flying in on a private jet – to talk to students about the importance of fighting climate change.

Steinmeier said that many of the adults had not yet noticed that it is “five to noon,” he said of it being close to classroom time in Neumünster, situated about 45 minutes north of Hamburg.

This was the first time that the Federal President had commented on the Friday demonstrations.

Some took to Twitter to note the irony of the Bundespresident making a short trip, that takes about three hours on the train from Berlin, on a private plane to encourage students to protect the climate. 

Steinmeier also discouraged children from skipping school in order to protest – urging them to turn to activism in their free time instead.

He said that the commitment to climate change was contagious, adding: “We can only thank you sincerely, encourage you to continue to be committed – within the school, of course, as a topic in school lessons and, of course, outside school hours.”

Visiting on International Women's Day, Steinmeier had a day off work as Berlin celebrated a public holiday for the first time. It was still a school day, however, for Neumünster.

Yet “Fridays for Future” isn't as favoured among other German politicians. Most recently, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) leader Christian Lindner caused a stir with his statement to the “Bild am Sonntag” that climate protection is “a matter for professionals” and not for children and young people.

Centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) deputy faction leader Matthias Miersch criticized Lindner's statement and accused him of “relapsing into the Stone Age”. Politicians around the world still do too little for climate protection, so the protests are “right and necessary”, he said.

Not just about climate change

The movement is not only about fighting climate change, but also about protecting the oceans, Steinmeier said last Friday. He referred to his impressions in February during a visit to the Galapagos Islands.

He noted the mountains of plastic waste that floated off the Ecuadorian coast, 90 percent of which came from other countries and continents.

“That's why it's so important that you get in touch with us on this subject and always point out that we're doing something. We need young people like you to interfere,” he added

The head of state said that the protests are devoted to a smorgasbord of causes.

Some fight for the climate and the environment, some against racism, some for democracy and some – “this is also becoming increasingly important,” Steinmeier added – for decency on Internet.

“In any case,” added Steinmeier, “I am glad that you are committed and that you are different from those who always say 'you can't do anything anyway' – you can do something.'”

Member comments

  1. Heck, you Euros gave Al Gore a Nobel Prize for being a climate scold and he flies everywhere in a private plane.

    Maybe it’s so nobody has to sit next to him.

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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