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World Across Europe, students skip school to demand climate change action

Young demonstrators hold placards as they attend a climate change protest organised by 'Youth Strike 4 Climate,' opposite the Houses of Parliament in central London on Feb. 15, 2019.

BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of students streamed out of schools across Europe on Friday, waving placards and carrying banners as they marched as part of a co-ordinated walkout to demand action on climate change.

In London, students chanting, “Save our planet!” gathered in Parliament Square, where they brought traffic to a standstill. Others held signs that read, “Change the politics not the climate.”

About 200 students gathered outside the Ministry of Ecology in Paris, saying they hoped to repeat the demonstration every week until their demands were heard. They urged the government to reduce France’s greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 4 per cent a year.

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Similar demonstrations have been steadily gaining momentum since emerging in Sweden last year. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old activist, has been cutting class weekly since September to stage sit-ins at the Swedish parliament demanding government action to address climate change.

Inspired by her, a movement known as Youth Strike 4 Climate was founded in Britain and has since grown rapidly, propelled by social media. On Friday, demonstrations were held in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and elsewhere.

Luisa Neubauer, 22, one of the organizers of marches in Berlin, which have gone on for weeks, called Friday’s demonstrations powerful. Children as young as six joined university students on the streets, she said.

“It’s just during these strikes that I am convinced we can actually make a difference,” she said.

While some politicians have rallied in support of the students, others, including Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, have been skeptical.

A spokesman for Ms. May said: “Everybody wants young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most so that we can build a brighter future for all of us. But it is important to emphasize that disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.”

The Prime Minister’s reaction was criticized by some, including Ms. Thunberg, the Swedish teenager.

“British PM says that the children on school strike are ‘wasting lesson time.’ That may well be the case,” Ms. Thunberg wrote on Twitter. “But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 yrs of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”

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