By Heike Kuhn
BERLIN, Apr 10 2019 (IPS)
What happens worldwide on Fridays, a regular working day and
consequently, a school day? We are all witnessing that students do
not attend their classes: during the week of March 15, 2019,
according to fridaysforfuture, there were
at least 1.6 million striking students in more than 125 countries
on all continents.
Students ask their governments and parents: “Why should I be
studying for a future that soon may exist no more, if no one does
anything to save that future?” And they pledge: “Dear adults,
use your power!” The youngsters gather in front of their town
halls, exposing signs and pictures #Fridaysforfuture or
How did this global movement start? It all began with the
activism of one person, a girl from Sweden. Who is that girl? Greta
Thunberg is a Swedish student, aged 15 in 2018. Due to the hot
summer in 2018, causing severe fires in large forests in Sweden,
she decided on August 20 to boycott school lessons until the
general elections in her country on September 9 would have taken
place. And she did. Her motivation: To advocate for the obligations
voluntarily taken over by the Swedish government to reduce carbon
emissions as foreseen by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
But even when the elections had taken place, she continued to
boycott school lessons on Fridays. As a climate activist she has
become a role model for thousands of students all over the world.
In the following months, students followed her, in December 2018
there were more than 20.000 students in about 270 cities “on
strike”, in Japan, Finland, USA, Australia and Germany. And these
demonstrations do continue – every Friday, having now reached the
impressive number of 1.6 million participants.
listen to Greta Thunberg’s impressive speech addressing political
leaders at the climate conference in Katowice (COP 24).
What is her message to all these leaders and politicians? She
argues that the adults in charge only speak about green growth
because they are too scared to take measures which could be
From her point of view, the wrong decisions taken in the last
decades are the cause for the mess we are in today. And she
explains to the powerful leaders that they are not mature enough to
take responsible decisions, even this burden is left to the
children. Whereas in industrialized countries people can enjoy
wealth, people in developping countries, especially children,
suffer and are threatened with regard to their future.
This is a powerful statement. In the meantime, Greta has
celebrated her 16th birthday. She has the Asperger syndrome, a mild
form of autism. However, she is capable to come up with a clear
view and responsible position with regard to the future and the
Her view is much clearer than the one of adults, among them
politicians, entrepreneurs or each of us. With strong impetus she
explains that she does not understand why governments and citizens
would not act, as climate change is threatening all of us.
We all know that climate change is a reality, only very few
persons still deny the facts and the evidence behind it. Climate is
changing rapidly, deepening the abyss between those who can adapt
and protect their lives – the rich – and those who are directly
exposed to it, many poor people in Africa, Asia or Latin
They are threatened by floods, avalanches, tsunamis or simply
because of drought. Climate change is the reason for people to
leave their villages thus becoming refugees. Climate change makes
childhood much harder for so many girls and boys worldwide or even
destroys childhood at all. Far too often there is no education
which is the most important way out of poverty and which creates
perspectives for families.
At the same time, everyone is talking about sustainable life
styles, but what is really happening? As citizens and as customers
we see and feel our share. When taking the car or air plane even
for short trips, we know we could easily walk or take the train.
When consuming too much meat, we know we could eat less.
Furthermore, we still use too much fossil fuel or witness the
ongoing deforestation of tropical rainforests.
However, we are perfectly aware that giving up some of these
climate threatening habits would be very easy for us – so why are
there so many obstacles?
Coming back to Swedish activist Thunberg and her recent presence
in the media: Greta was invited to the World Economic Forum in
Davos/Switzerland in January 2019 and there she talked to the
powerful leaders of our governments. How did she get there? By
train, of course, which meant she was travelling for 32 hours from
Stockholm to the Alps.
Once again, she delivered a most impressive speech, claiming
that our house is on fire: A short summary of her key note: In
Davos, where the focus is on economy, finance and growth, these
seem to be the main global problems. As to Greta a turnaround is
urgently needed, since financial success comes with an unthinkable
Citing the scientific findings of the IPCC, she refers to the
short deadline for homo sapiens to stop the emissions of green
house gas. And she clearly states that this change will be
uncomfortable to many of us. She urges leaders to take influence on
political decisions and reminds them that the bigger their platform
is, the bigger their responsibility is, too.
Who listens to Greta? Which politicians and leaders take action
after the global movement fridaysforfuture? In my country, Germany,
Chancellor Angela Merkel has complimented Greta on her activism and
expressed sympathy for the global movement (a slight irritation
after a comment of Chancellor Merkel during the Munich Security
Conference in March 2019 has been discarded). But where is the
Let us remember that global leaders voluntarily agreed on two
major texts in 2015: the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development
and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Whereas SDG 13 asks for
taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts,
showcasing the political will of all the subscribing 192 countries,
the legal character of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is a
What action have leaders taken since then in order to fulfil
their ambition and legal obligations? In 2015, Greta was 13 years
old, in 2018, when analysing the global climate situation, she
started her activism. In between, on the occasion of the
International Women’s Day on March 8, Greta Thunberg was
proclaimed the most important woman of the year in Sweden in 2019.
On March 31, she received the German Special Climate Protection
award (Goldene Kamera). And three Norwegian MPs have nominated her
as a candidate to receive this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace.
From my point of view, the most important consequences of
Greta’s wake-up call are the fact that it brings about a global
discussion for the change needed.
Furthermore, it causes incentives for real leaders and
reasonable politicians to act today. I personally hope that Greta
will be right in her analysis of the IPPC’s report that there is
still a short deadline left for homo sapiens to stop the emissions
of greenhouse gas and safe our planet.
And, hopefully, that Yuval Noah Harari, the author of the famous
bestseller “Sapiens” may revise his conclusion at the end of
his book, that in the course of seventy thousand years homo sapiens
has become the master of the entire planet and, at the same time,
has become the terror of the ecosystem.
Heike Kuhn is Head of Division – Human rights; gender equality;
inclusion of persons with disabilities at the Federal Ministry for
Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany
Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Fridays for Future – Following Greta Thunberg!