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35,000 attend Youth for Climate march in Brussels

15:32 24/01/2019
Up from 3,000 pupils a mere two weeks ago, the Youth for Climate march is expected to take place every Thursday, while the second Rise for Climate Belgium march is planned for 27 January

A record number 35,000 pupils from Belgian schools marched for the climate today in Brussels, the third outing for the activist group founded by two Antwerp secondary school students. “There’s nothing more important to us than this issue,” one of the marchers told Bruzz. “This is the only thing we talk about.”

The first Youth for Climate march was on 10 January and attracted 3,000 pupils. The second, last week, saw 12,000 show up. And today, police confirmed that there were 35,000 people, marching from Central Station to Place du Luxembourg in the EU district.

“I think that eventually, we’ll have held the largest climate march ever, and then everyone will see what kind of youth we have in Belgium,” Anuna De Wever, co-founder of Youth for Climate, told Bruzz. Strong words considering that last month more than 65,000 people attended the Claim the Climate march in Brussels.

De Wever said that she’s always been “careful” about what she says regarding her expectations, but “the first time everyone said ‘this is just a bit of fun’, and the second time they said I really shouldn’t expect more than that”.

Thunberg: ‘Heroes!’

Part of the reason for the increase in numbers appears to be due to French-language pupils joining their Dutch-speaking comrades. All of the pupils are skipping school to march for the climate, inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. The 16-year-old has made international headlines and was invited to speak at the COP24 last month following her ground-breaking School Strike for the Climate action.

Thunberg has been following the Brussels students’ actions and today tweeted: “A Belgian journalist just told me 35,000 students are school striking in Brussels today.! Heroes!”

While some of the Belgian pupils have permission from their schools to attend the marches, others do not and risk sanctions. While some schools are willing to see pupils disappear for one or two Thursdays, they are not prepared for the threat being carried out: To gather in the streets of Brussels every Thursday until the May elections.

“If these children have been absent for two full days, a third day can lead to action being undertaken,” said Kris Van den Bossche, head of Flanders’ Vrij CLB school network.

Rise for Climate this Sunday

In the meantime, the second Rise for Climate Belgium march is being planned for this Sunday. It starts at 14.00 at North Station. The first such march saw more than 65,000 people taking to the streets of Brussels.

On the same day, Act for Climate Justice is planning a protest outside of Rue de la Loi 16, the offices of the federal cabinet and prime minister. The group plans to write on the street in chalk the policy changes that need to happen.

The address is in the no-go zone for protests, and clashes with the police are expected. “Rue de la Loi might be a neutral zone,” writes the group on its website, “but there are no neutral zones when it comes to the climate. What’s a little disobedience compared to what’s at stake?”

Finally, the group Students for Climate, with chapters across Belgium’s higher education institutions, is planning its own climate march on 14 February.

Photo: 35,000 and counting: Youth for Climate promises to march every Thursday until the May elections
©Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw