In late September, as part of the Global Climate Strike, an estimated 7.6 million people took to the streets to demand climate action. In central and eastern Europe, this mobilization likely signals important momentum, not least about the prospects of an energy transitions in each of the countries.
Rikki Witt, | 21 October 2019
Bankwatchers and Bankwatch member groups attended many of the events across the region – in Ukraine, Latvia, Czechia, Poland, North Macedonia, Hungary, Romania, Estonia and Slovakia – (check out our Twitter dispatches) and ahead of the global strike, Bankwatch has called on staff at the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to join this historical mobilization to call for a transformation of these financial institutions.
Many of the protests in central and eastern Europe had highlighted the local perspectives about the urgent need for an energy transition.
In Romania, attitudes towards the climate crisis are changing fast. According to Bankwatch’s energy coordinator Ioana Ciuta who attended the Bucharest rally, youth leaders said that at their first strike, back in March, there had been only five of them. Half a year later, this number grew to around 1,000 protestors, and participants didn’t just come from the capital Bucharest, but from major cities throughout Romania such as Bacau, Cosntanta, and Brasov. “The Ministry of Environment, nobody’s ministry!” was the participants’ chant of choice as they were fenced in outside of the National Library of Romania.
An unexpectedly large crowd gathered in Bratislava, Slovakia, as nearly 5,000 people showed up. This comes after the Slovak President had come out in support of the climate strikes and the Prime Minister declared that Slovakia was ready to take action emphasizing the importance of youth demands for climate justice. Since the strike, Slovakia has become the newest member of the Power Past Coal Alliance, pledging to phase out coal by the year 2023.
The Hungarian government also announced plans to be coal-free by the year 2030. In Hungary, climate strikes boasted an attendance of about 6,000 – with solid representation from MTVSZ, Bankwatch’s member group in the country – and protesters in Budapest staged a “die-in” to stress that there is “no future on a dead planet”.
Poland, where coal makes up around 80% of the energy supply, saw some of the largest protests in central Europe, with events in over 60 cities. In Warsaw, participants demanding an end to fossil fuels, and coal in particular, simultaneously called for solidarity with miners. Outside the famous Palace of Science and Culture, protestors chanted “solidarity with miners, but never with mines!”
Yet, Polish decision makers have turned a deaf ear to the strikers’ demands, and even climate policy pundits have been quick to dismiss the young protestors; they believe climate policy is too complex for youth and should be left to the experts.
Bankwatch’s national coordinator for Poland Izabela Zygmunt has a different opinion, though: “My takeaway is that we must not let those young people down and put our campaigning expertise and expert knowledge behind them to show to policy makers that they are not making unrealistic or irresponsible demands, but that indeed, what they are asking for is both feasible and necessary,” she says.
“From the point of view of our campaigning, this has actually been an impulse to rethink our asks and check if perhaps we, as the expert climate organisations, are not making too modest demands and being too compromising.”
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