An estimated 1.5 million school students worldwide turned their back on lessons last week to stage the biggest wave of climate strikes since the protests began.

 Global map of school strikes
Global map of school strikes
Image: Fridays for Future

The climate strike movement was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Last year, she announced she would go on strike every Friday until the government in Stockholm took steps to guard against climate change.

Her uncompromising speech at January’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos catapulted her and the movement into the global spotlight: “I often hear adults say: ‘We need to give the next generation hope’,” she said. “But I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I do. Every day. And want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.”

From Sweden to Australia, from the USA to India, strikes took place in more than 2,000 cities across more than 100 countries. Many parents and even schools have given their support to the strikers, along with organizations like Greenpeace and public figures such as US Senator Bernie Sanders. But the reaction hasn’t been unanimously positive.

Australian finance minister Mathias Cormann was blunt in his criticism of the movement. "During the school time kids should be in school,” he said, before expressing the view that the school strikes had been hijacked by adult activists. "Australians will take a very cynical view of professional adult activists using and abusing kids for their purposes during school time,” he added.

The strikers are calling for a global state of climate emergency to be declared and for the views of younger people to be properly listened to by governments.

The financial costs of climate change are already being felt. Between now and the end of the century, an estimated $43 trillion of losses could be generated by climate change and extreme weather events. Climate change is also contributing to a loss of biodiversity, which is putting global food production in jeopardy, and is expected to cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050.