Striking school children gathered for a climate-change protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate on May 24 2019. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/SEAN GALLUP
Striking school children gathered for a climate-change protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate on May 24 2019. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/SEAN GALLUP

Berlin —Tens of thousands of young climate activists rallied in Germany on Friday in the latest mass protest demanding urgent action against global warming, ahead of the weekend’s European parliamentary elections.

At least 5,000 students boycotted classes and demonstrated at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate in what was expected to be one of the largest of protests planned in more than 110 countries.

Large crowds also gathered in Hamburg, Frankfurt and other German cities, mirroring protests across Europe and the world. In Berlin, they carried signs with messages such as “Climate now, homework later!” and “There is no planet B”, while teenage activists chanted: “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!”

The initiator of the “FridaysForFuture” protests, 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, again passionately called on youths in Europe and around the world to join the movement.

“It is time for all of us to resist on a massive scale,” she wrote in a text co-authored with German activist Luisa Neubauer in the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. “We have the feeling that many adults have not yet fully understood that we young people cannot stop the climate crisis on our own,” they wrote, calling the challenge “a task for all of humanity”.

While many previous protest movements have started on university campuses, the “Fridays” rallies emerged from among school students — a generation that has grown up with predictions of ecological doom yet witnessed what they see as only glacial political change.

“Climate change doesn’t respect borders, climate change will, at some point, become irreversible,” said one protester, Berlin student Aaron Langguth, 21. “That’s why we have to do something now. The students realise that there’s no point going to classes if they don’t have a future.”

‘Make love, not CO2

Many of the banners, posters and protest cries reflect a rising sense of frustration and anxiety about inheriting a warming planet with melting ice caps and glaciers that is battered by worsening droughts, floods and storms.

“You are running out of excuses, we are running out of time,” read one message directed at politicians, while another demanded: “The climate is changing, why aren’t we?”

Many messages addressed the serious issue in a more light-hearted way, including signs that read, “Make the world cool again”, “Make love, not CO2”, and “Don’t blow it — good planets are hard to find”.

One boy’s hand-painted sign mixed ecological alarm with a teenager’s optimism: “Our planet is getting hotter than my future girlfriend”.

Another issued a direct warning to adults: “If you don’t take us seriously, we’ll scrap your pensions”.

In recent months, the rallies have, indeed, helped to significantly shift political attitudes among adults. Most mainstream parties have addressed climate change and other environmental issues as a Eurobarometer poll shows that it is now a leading concern for EU voters, not far behind economic issues and migration.

Present at the Berlin protests were #ParentsForFuture and similarly named groups by scientists, doctors, entrepreneurs, midwives and queers.

Under the 2015 Paris deal to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the 28-nation EU has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, compared to 1990. But many scientists and climate activists say Europe and all other major economies must sharply raise their ambition.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change warned in October that warming is currently on track towards a catastrophic 3°C or 4°C rise.