French students starting to mobilise against climate inaction

15 year old activist Greta Thunberg speaks truth to power at the UN COP24 climate talks in Poland.

In Paris, it is French students rather than secondary school pupils who are mobilising for the youth climate march, a movement which is slowly gaining momentum in France. EURACTIV France reports.

While Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is in Brussels next week to take part in a Belgian climate march on 21 February, French people are also starting to get involved.

Students from the greater Paris region gathered outside the French ecology ministry on Friday (15 February) morning, part of the first youth movements on climate change observed in France in recent weeks. Other gatherings have taken place in Valence and Nantes.

“Greta Thunberg is calling for a global youth strike to combat climate change on 15 March,” said students from the group “Désobéissance écolo Paris” (Green disobedience Paris).

“We, young people, who are aware of the climate crisis, will start the mobilisation in Paris beforehand…by extending the strike to every Friday from 15 February,” they announced.

While usually quick to hit the streets, French secondary school pupils have not been very responsive on the issue of climate change. In contrast, there have been an increasing number of youth movements by their counterparts in Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Scientists tell Belgian school kids on climate strike: ‘You’re right!’

A group of more than 3,000 scientists have given their backing to thousands of Belgian school children who took to the streets for the fourth week in a row on Thursday (30 January) to ask for more ambitious climate policies.

“I think enough people have realised just how absurd the situation is,” Thunberg said.

“We are in the middle of the biggest crisis in human history and basically nothing is being done to prevent it. I think what we are seeing is the beginning of great changes and that is very hopeful,” added the activist, who will be in Paris on 15 March.

The young girl’s outspokenness contrasts with politicians’ reassuring rhetoric on climate change. In December, Thunberg scolded environment ministers and global heads of state at Katowice in Poland, before criticising business leaders at their meeting in Davos for their inaction.

While mobilisation in France seems more discrete, it is still making significant progress. This has particularly been the case since former ecology minister Nicolas Hulot resigned in September, a move which shocked people into taking action.

In the aftermath, dozens of climate marches were organised, spontaneously to a greater or lesser extent, bringing together hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.

Students in the French élite “grandes écoles” also take part

Among the elite “grandes écoles” universities, which had until now been quite conservative, a “Wake up call on the environment” manifesto was signed by almost 30,000 people within a few months.

“As we get closer to our first job, we realise that the system we are part of steers us towards positions that are often incompatible with the result of our reflections. This system traps us in daily contradictions,” the manifesto underlined.

There are engineers moving away from industries which they were originally intended for because of their own beliefs about the environment.

A former student from an engineering school left the nuclear industry to join the fight against climate change. “I hadn’t given it much thought during my studies, but when it came to working, I couldn’t do something that went against my environmental beliefs,” he said.

One of the movement’s other currents, which is more radical than the one at the grandes écoles, also wrote a text to mark its involvement.

It was published on 8 February by Reporterre, a news website for environmental and social issues. The statement, which was abrupt like Thunberg’s speeches, mentions young people’s anger about climate change and the inaction of those in power.

Increased awareness of climate issues could also be seen in the findings of the citizen consultations on Europe. The consultations involved almost 80,000 people in France in 2018 and the environment was the most frequently mentioned topic.

Citizens’ consultations: France dreaming of ecological Europe

The European Council between 13-14 December will focus on the findings of the citizens’ consultations. French people dream of having a more ecological and more socially just Europe, where there is greater citizen participation. Can the EU meet their expectations? EURACTIV France reports.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Frédéric Simon]

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