German protesters demand climate action as elections approach

BERLIN – Hundreds of thousands of young people around the world returned to the streets on Friday in the first global climate protest since the coronavirus pandemic forced them to lockdowns.

Protesters gathered in Bangladesh, Kenya, the Netherlands and many other countries. But nowhere was the call for action more urgent than in Germany, where an estimated several hundred thousand people came to more than 400 cities, which put pressure on those who win a national election Sunday to put climate protection at the top of their agenda.

Greta Thunberg, 18-year-old climate activist who started the protests on Friday for the future in Stockholm 2018 by skipping school as a way to shame the world to deal with climate change, made a guest appearance at a protest in Berlin.

“Yes, we have to vote and you have to vote, but remember that voting will not be enough,” she told the audience, urging them to remain motivated and continue the pressure on politicians.

“We can still turn this around. People are ready for change, she says. “We demand change and we are change.”

People of all ages marched through central Berlin and then gathered on the lawn before the Riksdag, where Germany’s parliament meets. Thousands visited similar protests in other cities in the country.

The Germans will elect new representatives to parliament on Sunday, and the climate issue has never before played such a role in a German election. Despite coming to office with ambitions to reduce CO2 emissions in 2005, four governments in a row under Chancellor Angela Merkel did not significantly reduce Germany’s carbon footprint. According to the World Bank, it remains in the top 10 of the world’s most polluting countries.

It has been young climate activists, inspired by Thunberg, who have succeeded in leading the climate debate at the forefront of Germany’s political discussion. This year, they successfully took the government to court, forces one 2019 team aims to reduce the country’s carbon dioxide emissions to almost zero by 2050 to be reworked with more ambitious and detailed targets to reduce emissions by 2030.

Recent surveys have shown that the next German government may include left-leaning environmental activists who many hope will bring about real change. The Social Democratic Party has been in the lead for several weeks, ahead of the Conservative Christian Democrats, with the Greens firmly in third place, raising hopes that whichever party wins will include them in the next government.

But some young Germans are worried that even the green Greens may not adopt policies aggressively enough to accelerate Germany’s exit from coal, currently 2038. They also demand that Germany accelerate its plan to achieve climate neutrality, when net CO2 emissions hit zero, 10 years earlier than planned, to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the lower limit defined in The Paris Agreement.

“The last few months have shown how dishonestly the parties have fought for the climate crisis, without even beginning to advocate sufficient measures to combat it,” said Maia Stimmimg, spokeswoman for Fridays for Future Germany.

“As one of the main polluters, Germany must finally stop the destruction,” she said. “Without massive pressure from us on the streets, no coalition will keep the limit at 1.5 degrees after the election.”

Alexandra Petrikat, an entrepreneur and mother of two young children who took part in the demonstration in Berlin, said she was impressed by how peaceful and respectful the protesters were. At the same time, she said that their message was loud and clear.

“I think we sent a signal that whoever forms the next government cannot turn a blind eye to our demands,” Petrikat said. “We will not give up. We will continue to grow and we will continue the pressure. ”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed with reporting.

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