By Khaled Diab, EEB
Since last Friday, millions of protesters around the world have taken to the streets and even infiltrated the corridors of power for a week of sustained protest to demand climate action and sustainability now.
Friday 20 September 2019 kicked off the week-long Global Climate Strike or Global Week for the Future, which is spearheaded by the Fridays for Future movement, and the Global Week of Action for Sustainable Development which runs under the slogan #StandTogetherNow.
Millions were mobilised worldwide on Friday, with reports suggesting that it was the largest climate protest in history. Protests took place in an estimated 185 countries, with the largest number of protesters reported in Germany, where 1.4 million people joined marches in different parts of the country.
But protests were not just confined to streets and squares. A number of child and youth activists were invited inside the UN’s halls, including Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who spearheads the global Fridays for Future movement, which started just a year ago as a one-girl protest outside the Swedish parliament.
“People are suffering; people are dying; entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” Thunberg told governments at the climate summit. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.”
Words speak as loud as actions
In Brussels, which has been the scene of sustained protest for months with the largest climate demonstration drawing 70,000 in January, an estimated 15,000 people marched through the Belgian and EU capital.
The Brussels march was spearheaded by the Belgian chapter of Fridays for Future, with the EEB as a co-organiser on behalf of SDG Watch Europe.
“We need to put pressure on our politicians to do something about the climate crisis,” Anuna De Wever, the Belgian youth climate activist, told Meta. “They need to show ambition and they need to show courage. We need system change.”
The march ended up on Schuman Square, at the very heart of the European quarter, to send a clear message to EU leaders. There, SDG Watch Europe rallied hundreds of protesters to form three words: ‘climate’, ‘equality’ and ‘voice’.
The word ‘climate’ was chosen for obvious reasons. We are in the midst of a climate emergency, and failure to act now is likely to spell catastrophe for humanity and the natural world.
The word ‘voice’ signifies that everyone has the right to speak their mind and to speak up for their rights, no matter their background or circumstances, and opposes attempts to silence people, especially the vulnerable and marginalised.
The word ‘equality’ was selected to highlight how alarmingly inequalities have widened in Europe and around the world and to demand action to create a world of greater equality and justice.
These three words were selected to represent some of the key demands of the #StandTogetherNow campaign, which seeks to draw attention to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“This week, all around the globe people are taking action with a clear call to policymakers: we want to see more ambition in order to achieve the SDGs by 2030,” says the EEB’s Director of Global Policies and Sustainability Patrizia Heidegger. “Four years of inaction have passed: 2020 to 2030 must now be the decade of action in which we change course and lead humanity on the path of sustainability.”
Wanted: Sustainability Heroes
The action week coincided with the fourth anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 ambitious targets agreed by the international community which seek, among other things, to eradicate poverty, narrow inequalities, tackle global warming, protect nature and ensure that humanity lives within the boundaries of the planet.
To mark the fourth anniversary, an SDG Summit was hosted by the United Nations in New York. “Half the wealth around the world is held by people who could fit around a conference table, and, at the current pace, almost 500 million people could remain in extreme poverty by 2030,” noted UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “We must step up our efforts. Now.”
Despite progress in some areas, Europe, like most of the world, is way behind on its implementation of the SDGs, both at home and abroad, as reflected in the widening inequalities within Europe and in how the EU exports misery to other parts of the world.
To convince policymakers and politicians of the importance of championing not only the climate crisis but also of pursuing the holistic approach to the environmental, economic and social challenges facing us represented by the SDGs, the EEB and its Make Europe Sustainable for All (MESA) partners organised events and actions across the EU.
On behalf of SDG Watch Europe, the EEB sent out a job ad for ‘Sustainability Heroes’ to members of the European Parliament. The EEB also took to filmmaking. In a light-hearted animated film produced on behalf of SDG Watch Europe, a selection panel inspired by the pantheon of ancient gods interview prospective MEPs for the role of Sustainability Heroes. Watch the video here.