British schoolchildren are planning to walk out of lessons on Friday 15th February, as part of a growing movement demanding urgent action on climate change. Pupils are being encouraged to put down their pens for three hours and go on "strike", with protests planned in more than 20 locations.

The children are following the example of tens of thousands of their peers across Europe, who have been holding regular marches since January.

Some of the largest protests have been held in Belgium. One demonstration, in Liège, drew 15,000 people - parents and grandparents joining students as they marched to the city hall with chants of “to arms”.

Image: @BenjaHermann
Image: @BrunildaPali

The young marchers had the backing of a coalition of 3,450 Belgian scientists who wrote an open letter warning that current policies will lead to a disastrous 3-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures. The strikes have even led to the resignation of a Belgian environment minister, who falsely claimed intelligence agencies had evidence the children were being "set up".

In the UK, MPs, newspaper columnists, and even some teachers have backed plans for Friday's action. The National Association for Head Teachers initially showed their support, applauding older pupils for making "an informed decision" (although the organisation has since stressed that it does not condone children missing school). And the UK Student Climate Network, which is helping to coordinate the strikes, is keen to keep the adults onside - advising pupils to get written permission from their parents first.

Under the banner #FridaysForFuture, school strikes of varying scale have spread worldwide, from Germany and Switzerland to the US. And the inspiration for all of this is a 16-year-old girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg.

In August 2018, during Sweden’s hottest summer on record, she refused to go to school. Instead she began a lonely protest on the cobblestones outside the parliament in Stockholm, with a simple message: adults were failing to deal effectively with climate change, so the next generation had to make its voice heard.

It’s a message that she has now delivered in person to world leaders and the most influential figures in business. As she addressed the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Greta was frank.

16-year old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg stages a sit down protest in front of the Congress Centre during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann - RC1BF2A757B0
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg staged a sit-down strike in Davos.
Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

“I don’t want your hope,” she told some of the most powerful people in the world. “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I do. Every day. And I want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Greta has faced criticism for her stance - she has been accused of encouraging truancy, and even her parents think she ought to go to school. But she is unbowed, and makes a compelling argument: either action is taken immediately to reduce emissions and limit global warming, or the very survival of human civilisation is at risk.

“Either we prevent temperatures from rising above 1.5C, or we don’t. Either we avoid chain reaction of unravelling ecosystems, or we don’t. That’s as black or white as it gets. Now we all have a choice: we can either create transformational action or continue with business as usual and fail.”

Her uncompromising message has struck a chord with young people who don’t yet have the power to vote. She has 172,000 followers on Twitter, and many of those are answering the call to action.

They are among a growing throng of young activists who are bringing fresh enthusiasm and vigour to efforts to deal with the world’s most pressing and intractable problems. The Global Shapers Community is harnessing this energy, with the Voice for the Planet mobilising mass support behind the aims of the Forum’s Climate Initiative.

Meanwhile, the children of Belgium, Germany, the UK and other nations say they will keep up the pressure on the grown-ups, demanding actions rather than words.