Brussels' Global Climate strike before the pandemic. Credit: Evie McCullough/The Brussels Times
Between January and May 2019, Youth for Climate organised weekly strikes for the climate in several Belgian cities. Tens of thousands of youth took to the streets to demand climate action and climate justice. Our aim was to get Belgium, the EU and the world to realise that we’re in a climate emergency. Our demand was that political leaders take the climate actions needed to safeguard our future.
We’ve all seen how the clock is ticking: Greenhouse gas emissions are still rising and the Amazon is burning. Hurricanes are bigger and deadlier. In Europe, new heat records were set again this summer, and here in Belgium temperatures reached 40.7°C in July, a new record. We’re eighteen now, but how bad will the heatwaves be by the time we turn thirty?
We’ve joined millions of young people worldwide on the streets, with a few simple demands to politicians: Listen to the science, realise the emergency, and act. But so far, we’ve seen no real response, no real action, just political leaders dragging their feet in the face of the crisis.
We’ve done our homework, and scientists say temperatures and impacts will get much worse in the next few decades if we can’t limit warming to 1.5°C. These are the decades when we should study, start our careers, and maybe start a family. And we’re among the luckier ones – in many countries in the Global South, islands are already disappearing and heat and droughts causing unbearable living conditions. In the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, thousands of Vietnamese already had to migrate due to salinization of the Mekong river. In Niger, the population is experiencing more frequent droughts threatening their crop and livelihoods.
We’re all facing a crisis. This has been our message since starting our strikes. And of course, there have been some attempts by politicians to respond: Belgium tried and failed to introduce a new climate law. EU countries also tried and failed to get an agreement to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. We can’t accept these failures, because failing to deal with the climate crisis is not an option. The clock is ticking on the most existential threat of our time.
This summer, many of us youth climate activists have spent time meeting activists from other countries, studying the science, touring festivals to organise ”clap for climate” and of course preparing for Season 2 of our strikes. After a busy summer, we are ready to make our voices heard again. We will not stop until we see real change.
Third Global Climate strike
On September 20, we joined millions of young people at the third global climate strikes. In Belgium, the strikes in major cities – including Brussels – marked the start of a week of actions that will include a Power to the People Citizens Assembly on Sept 23 and an Atmospheric Garden Free Electro Party at Atomium on Sept 27.
It’s our future that is on the line, and we’re asking all young people to join the strike. And we need all adults to support us and join the marches as well – you will all be affected by the climate crisis, and your children and grandchildren even more. Everyone is welcome and needed.
Leaders must listen
Once again, we’re asking EU leaders to listen to the science: Member states, including Belgium, should agree to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050 at the very latest, and increase the goal for 2030 to at least 65% below 1990 levels. These plans need to be in place as soon as possible. We know that the solutions already exist, and on our initiative, a panel of Belgian climate experts put together a report with clean recommendations on climate action for Belgian leaders.
On 23 September, just after the global strike, the UN will organise a climate action summit in New York. Our friend and fellow activist Greta Thunberg has been invited to attend, along with world leaders. There, countries are expected to present concrete plans to raise their climate action. It is a disgrace that the EU calls itself a climate leader but will have nothing new to show at this summit.
In October we’ll sail to the Amazon in Brazil to remind the world of the importance of the Amazon forest in the climate crisis and then to Chile to attend the December COP25 climate conference. There we hope to see that the EU has gotten its act together and agreed on how to raise its climate profile immediately, in line with the science. Not only to keep us safe, but to inspire other countries to drastically cut emissions as well.
Do your homework and listen to the science. That’s all we’re asking. Once you realise we’re in a crisis you’ll know what to do.
Adélaïde Charlier, 18, and Anuna De Wever, 18, are climate activists and members of Youth for Climate Belgium. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, they helped launch the Belgian movement in January 2019.