30,000 march for climate, pupil announces new thinktank


As more than 30,000 pupils of all ages – as well as school staff and others – marched for stronger climate policies around the country yesterday, a Youth for Climate leader launched a new thinktank with the Flemish Master Architect

Re-inventing the system

The climate marches in Brussels organised by Flemish secondary school pupils exploded into other cities today, seeing more than 30,000 people in total take to the streets of the capital, Leuven, Antwerp, Liège, Charleroi and Tournai.

While some 12,500 marched in Brussels from North to South Stations, 15,000 gathered in Liege. In Leuven, 3,500 primary school pupils marched, together with school staff.

“The climate theme has become unstoppable in our classes and in many other primary schools,” teacher Annelies Holemans of Leuven’s Zevensprong Freinet school, one of the march’s organisers, told VRT. “Our kids really wanted to go to Brussels, but some of them are a bit too young for that. So we decided to organise our own climate action here. We invited other schools, and now there are so many of us.”

This was the fourth week for the Brussels marches but the first time that so many cities organised their own. Organisers of the Youth for Climate marches promise to skip school and take to the streets every Thursday until the regional, federal and European elections in May. They are part of the now global School Strike for the Climate started by a single teenager in Sweden last summer.

Schools respond

Some schools in Flanders are trying to get pupils to stop being truant every Thursday by putting on climate-related lessons and activities. One of the region’s education networks has stated that truancy is still against the rules, for whatever reason, while the other networks are asking pupils to state their reasons for wanting to skip school to attend the marches. Otherwise they will be considered truant.

Organiser of the Brussels marches, Antwerp pupils Anuna De Wever and Kyra Gantois, and their counterpart in Wallonia, met with members of the federal parliament this week, and the Antwerp pupils met with members of the Flemish parliament.

The leaders of Youth for Climate, which has a website in the meantime, delivered five demands: Decrease emissions by 10% by 2050, appoint a “competent” federal climate minister, make public transport free, provide affordable renewable energy and do not increase the tax burden on average and below-average wage earners in order to achieve these goals.

The discussion is no longer if we are going to make this happen, but which solutions are we going to seek

- Kyra Gantois

“We saw how the politicians bicker and point their fingers at each other,” said Gantois, following the meetings. “The discussion is no longer if we are going to make this happen, but which solutions are we going to seek for a better climate.”

In the meantime, De Wever has called on Belgian scientists to join a new thinktank she announced this week with Flanders’ Master Architect, Leo Van Broeck. The idea is to create a panel of scientists to work with politicians on climate policy.

“The office of master architect has existed for 20 years, and was launched to improve the quality of our architecture as well as urban planning and the environment,” said Van Broeck. “But also to advise on policy and to lead community debate from an independent position.”

De Wever contacted Van Broeck to create such a body, and he immediately agreed. Its first job, he continued, will be to reveal, in no uncertain terms, exactly what we are faced with.

“‘Climate’ is broad concept and not limited to global warming, energy or CO2,” said Van Broeck. “Natural  habitats are disappearing, there is overpopulation and our economy requires raw materials and produces a great deal of waste. How can we re-invent that system without destroying the economy and without destroying the environment? That asks for broad scientific considerations.”

Photo: Student activist Anuna De Wever and Flemish Master Architect Leo Van Broeck announce the formation of a climate thinktank
©Eric Lalmand/BELGA