Young climate activists win Free Word prize


Teenagers Anuna De Wever and Kyra Gantois have won the Ark Prize for their work on mobilising young people to call for urgent action from governments on climate change

‘We will continue’

Teenage climate activists Anuna De Wever and Kyra Gantois have won the Ark Prize for the Free Word, for their commitment to putting the issue of climate change on the political agenda.

According to the prize committee, the two teenagers behind Belgium’s Youth for Climate movement have been essential in making the voices of young people heard on an urgent issue. “The ArkCommitte sees in the efforts of De Wever and Gantois – and in the wider Youth for Climate movement – a contemporary interpretation of the free word, propagated by the next generation,” a spokesperson said.

“Initially we were written off as cute,” Gantois, 19, said on receiving the award. “Then it was amazement, then some people found us annoying.” “We will continue to speak out, until you feel uncomfortable,” 17-year-old De Wever added.

They also praised Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old who began the worldwide climate movement among young people that has seen pupils regularly walking out of class and taking to the streets to call for more action from governments to combat climate change. In Belgium, there have been protests every week since the beginning of the year in Brussels, Antwerp and elsewhere. At one point, there were an estimated 12,500 protestors on the streets in six Belgian cities.

Standing up to opponents

The Ark Prize was established in 1951 by writer Herman Teirlinck, to honour people who work to promote freedom of thought. In the past it has been won by writers Hugo Claus and Tom Lanoye and biologist Christine Van Broeckhoven.

Author Jeroen Olyslaegers, a winner of the prize in 2014, gave a speech at the awards ceremony in Antwerp this week. Earlier this year he helped the teenagers write the book Wij zijn het klimaat (We are the Climate) and he praised them for their impatience and the way in which they stand up to their opponents “without ever making it personal”.

Photo: Anuna De Wever (left) and Kyra Gantois receive their award in Antwerp this week
© Belga/Jonas Van Boxel