The next generation demands more government action on climate change

Students and parents are joining forces to highlight the issue of climate change, inspired by a 16-year old Swedish activist.

Climate change protest outside parliament, 15th February 2019 / Credit: Petja Pirhonen, News Now Finland

Finnish parents, concerned about climate change, are joining with their children to highlight environmental issues. It’s part of a movement growing across Europe that sees young people demanding action in a way they wish the previous generation had done.

For three Fridays in a row, 15-year-old Atte Ahokas has skipped school in Jokioinen and gone to the steps of parliament to protest what he says is the government’s insufficient plans to tackle global warming.

Ahokas has been organising school strikes in his home area, but tries to get to Helsinki as often as possible.

File picture of student activist Atte Ahokas outside parliament, 15th February 2019 / Credit: Petja Pirhonen, News Now Finland

“The idea of this protest is that we have to act now. We want politicians to understand how critical the situation is. There is a lot of talk about climate change being a serious issue but it is not visible in concrete actions. We are pushing decisionmakers to take the action” Ahokas tells News Now Finland.

The protests – which include school pupils – have been held every Friday since August 2018 as people of different ages and backgrounds, united by a concern for the environment, have been gathering in Finnish cities like Oulu, Tampere and Helsinki.

According to one of the regular Helsinki participants, Jarkko Koistinen, who is Chairman of the Climate Parents Finland organisation, the protests have been attracting up to 200 people each time in the capital.

At the most recent Friday protest, attendees stood holding banners with slogans like “stop environmental destruction” and “#FridaysForFuture” and #ClimateStrike” on them – the hashtags used to promote the campaign on social media.

File picture of climate change protest outside parliament, 15th February 2019 / Credit: Petja Pirhonen, News Now Finland

Fridays For Future with Greta

In Finland another protest slogan has become very popular, and highlights the importance of a young Swedish activist to the movement.

Fridays With Greta – which is Perjantait Gretan kanssa in Finnish – is inspired by 16-year old Greta Thunberg who decided at the end of last summer to sit down in front of the parliament in Stockhom, instead of going to school, to press the Swedish government to put the country’s carbon emission goals in line with the Paris Agreement.

“Greta held a speech in Stockholm asking people to gather up at their county government buildings or administrative blocks regularly until the country complies with the Paris Climate Agreement or runs a policy that meets the requirements of the ICPP report” explains Jaana Lahti, a board member of Climate Parents Finland.

“In that sense we have the same goal and we wanted to respond to the invitation” she adds.

Since her first Stockholm protest, Greta Thunberg has become a prominent role model, inspiring thousands of students and adults across the world to support her campaign.

“Adults keep saying ‘we owe it to the young people to give them hope’. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you feel the fear I feel everyday. And then I want you to act” she pressed leaders in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davis this year.

Like many other students in Finland, Atte Ahokas is encouraged by Thunberg’s campaigning, to try and get other people involved in the fight against climate change.

“She speaks so well and convincingly being able to awaken people. In fact, my whole idea [to start the climate change protests in Finland] came from Greta Thunberg. She is a very important source of inspiration” says Ahokas.

File picture showing exterior of parliament building / Credit: News Now Finland

Government taking action – but is it enough?

According to the Finnish government they’re on course to cut green house gas emissions by 80% to 90% by 2050. There’s also plans to boost the use of biofuels for transport up to 30% by 2030; phase out coal as an energy source entirely by 2030; raise the share of renewable energy consumption 50% and to be 55% self sufficient in energy production by 2030.

By then there should also be at least 250,000 electric and 50,000 gas-powered vehicles on the road according to the government’s projections.

But those changes are not coming fast enough for activists.

“All countries should do their part in this process, but Finland could afford to make even more radical decisions” 15-year old high school student Atte Ahokas.

“Developing countries do not yet have the infrastructure or capability to reduce emissions. According to a climate justification our western countries should do more to allow the time to developing countries to create the necessary infrastructure and administration so the that they were able to make these reductions too” he explains.

Campaigning parent Jaana Lahti also thinks Finland should be doing more.

“We have to promote the message that Finland cannot get a free ride where climate change is concerned. We are demanding that Finland will do a policy that avoids the worst consequences of environmental disaster”.