European youth climate protest moves to France

Greta Thunberg and Anuna De Wever marching to demand better climate policies.
Greta Thunberg and Anuna De Wever marching to demand better climate policies. Reuters

On Friday, Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg brought her class-boycott campaign to Paris, hoping to encourage French students to hit the streets with demands for more ambitious efforts to combat global warming.


Thunberg's campaign to hold adults accountable for the consequences of climate change has attracted worldwide attention since she began skipping class for weekly Friday protests in Stockholm six months ago.

She made global headlines in December with her speech at a UN climate meeting in Poland. Last month she took her message to the top corporate echelons at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

On Friday 22 February, it was time to hit the French capital.

Climate clock ticking

In front of the Opéra in central Paris, hundreds of students gather together, drawing banners and boards calling attention to climate change.

“Watch your Rolex, the climate clock is ticking,” reads one.

“Your planet is beautiful, take care of it!” says another.

And no youth protest is complete without a Game of Thrones reference: “Water is Coming”, as sea levels rise as a result of global warming and melting ice caps.

“I’m protesting against the fact that governments in Europe aren’t doing enough to resolve the climate crisis,” says Tari Varini from Switzerland.

“This crisis is getting bigger and bigger every single day. I hope that the more we protest, the more the pressure grows and the more they will change so that the climate crisis will become a more important topic."

He hopes that politicians will change the laws, so that in the end, protests won’t be necessary anymore.

Katrien van der Heyden, mother of Anuna de Wever
Katrien van der Heyden, mother of Anuna de Wever Jan van der Made/RFI

Contrasting emotions

Greta Thunberg, surrounded by dozens of international friends from European countries, travelled to France to support the French students, but as their ages ranged from 15 to 17, they were accompanied by an army of adults.

Describing her feelings about her daughter's involvement in the protest, Anuna de Wever's mother Katrien says her feelings “oscillate between two contrasting emotions, one is being really scared, because we’ve received death threats, and a lot of harassment, on social media.

“And on the other extreme is that I’m incredibly proud of what my daughter and her friends are doing."

Anuna, inspired by Greta Thunberg, managed to organize 4,000 Belgian students to demonstrate for better climate policies.

“I think it is very brave, to stand up and confront the politicians on an issue like this,” says Katrien. “I think it is very urgent, they have a sense of urgency.

“But they didn’t even wait until they were adults. They want to do it now, and I think it is so incredibly courageous of them to do it."

Annaelle, French student and climate activist
Annaelle, French student and climate activist Jan van der Made

France slow off the mark

One of the complaints by the European students was that French students didn’t really participate in the movement, but that seems to have changed now.

“Last week we started the movement here in France,” says Anaelle, a student in Paris.

“It was actually hard to mobilise all the universities around Paris or in France, so we had a lot of meetings with and we decided that the French will join the global movement last week. That’s why I’m here.”

But it remains to be seen if France is ready for another weekly rhythm of protests as the French have already seen fourteen weeks of demonstrations by the Yellow Vests who are calling for social and economic reform.

Students writing slogans
Students writing slogans Jan van der Made

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