On 20 August 2018, a 15-year-old girl sat alone in front of the Swedish Parliament to hold a “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (school strike for the climate). Today this girl, Greta Thunberg, is the face of a global movement for more climate action. One of the movement’s most important demands is that the 1.5 degree target set at the World Climate Conference in Paris in 2015 be met. If we look at the map showing the weekly strikes on Fridays for Future’s website today, we can see that there are indeed protests worldwide: whether in Reykjavík/Iceland, Tirana/Albania, Luanda/Angola, Kingston/Jamaica, Colombo/Sri Lanka or Auckland/New Zealand. While in many countries, however, hardly more than a few dozen people—at most a few hundred—come together, sometimes tens of thousands of participants gather at the large demonstrations held in European metropolises.
Most recently, such a major climate demonstration was held in Madrid on 6 December. The occasion was the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25), which took place from 2–15 December in the Spanish capital after the Chilean President cancelled the conference, which was originally planned in Santiago de Chile, at short notice due to protests in the country. There are active and influential environmental organisations in Spain, such as the Spanish branches of Greenpeace and the WWF, as well as “Ecologistas en Acción” (Ecologists in Action). For a long time, however, environmental and climate issues played only a subordinate role among the public at large, and consequently, among the elected parties. Although there is a Green Party (called “Equo”), this party has run in national elections in recent years together with the left-wing party “Podemos” in order to improve its chances. Thus, in Spain too, an active youth was needed first, who addressed the topic through protests.
The first Fridays for Future strike took place in January 2019, hosted by students of the University of Girona. From 1 March onwards, every Friday, school children and students in Madrid began to go out on the streets to make a stand for the climate. When the first global climate strike finally took place on 15 March, there were manifestations at over 45 locations in Spain, from Seville to San Sebastián and from Badajoz to Barcelona. Today, Fridays for Future groups can be found all over the country, including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands. The official name of the movement in Spain is “Juventud Por El Clima – #FridaysForFuture España.”
When and why did you start to get involved with “Juventud Por El Clima – Fridays for Future España”?
Paula: I’ve always cared about nature, it was something to protect for me. When I discovered Fridays for Future, I saw an opportunity to contribute to the fight for the environment in a much larger way than doing things on my own or just changing the habits of my life. Then I went to a meeting in Madrid in August 2019 to learn how the movement works, and I liked the people so much that I decided to stay.
What role has climate change played so far in Spanish politics and what contribution can “Fridays For Future España“ make in the public discourse?
Paula: The climate crisis hasn’t really been present in political discourse. It’s been more prominent during the elections [Spanish general elections on 10 November 2019, author’s note] but the only thing the government and parliament did regarding this crisis was to declare climate emergency, which are empty words if they are not followed by convincing actions that can lead the country towards change. Fridays for Future España helped during this past year to raise awareness among civil society in order to create a stronger pressure upon the government and politics.
“We want them to see that Spain is at high risk of becoming a desert”
Are there any topics within the climate debate that are of particular interest to you in Spain?
Paula: We want people to realize that climate change is not only affecting the Global South, but also us. We want them to see that Spain is at high risk of becoming a desert within a few years from now, that we are already suffering stronger heat waves, droughts, and heavy rains that have caused great damage in Mallorca and Valencia. However, we do not only speak for our own future but for everyone’s future, and for climate justice.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 25) has just taken place in Madrid. How did you as a group get involved during these days?
Paula: Fridays for Future convened a demonstration on 6 December to create pressure on the negotiations taking place within the COP, and we also organized a social summit which environmental grass-roots groups, NGOs, and other people could use as a space of union to create bonds between movements, but also to give talks and workshops about their respective struggles and the relationship they have with environmentalism and climate justice.
How would you evaluate the outcome of the conference and what was Fridays for Future able to achieve during there?
Paula: Some of our members entered the Blue Zone [only accessible for accredited delegates and observers, author’s note] and followed first-hand what was happening at the COP. They also participated in protests there, which allowed their message to reach the people it normally couldn’t. Due to the COP taking place in Madrid, we were able to organize a massive demonstration, bringing people from all over the world to protest against the inaction of the governments. With half a million people attending the demonstration, we made history and that was a great achievement. Regarding the question of how we would evaluate the COP, we must take into consideration what goals the individual parties of the conference set for themselves and whether they have reached them, but also if their ambition in political measures has increased and how present the theme of climate justice has been in their negotiations. We think that the final agreement was insufficient, because it doesn’t take into account human rights, and some of the latest agreements were made without representatives of the Global South or some of the countries more affected by climate change. Therefore, rich countries, which clearly don’t have the whole perspective on the crisis, are once again deciding the future of poorer countries. If there is no collaboration of every country, we won’t get a useful agreement that can stop the emergency.