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Merkel backs student climate protests

March 2, 2019

German Chancellor Merkel has praised protests by school pupils urging more action on climate change. But she said they would have to be patient about Germany's phaseout of coal-fired energy.

Berlin demonstration for climate protection
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced support for weekly protests by school students calling for faster government action to combat climate change.

In a video podcast released on Saturday, Merkel said she was very supportive of the fact that "students take to the street in the cause of climate protection and fight for it."

"I believe it is a very good initiative," she added.

Read moreClimate protection: Where do the EU's right-wing populists stand? 

Reconciling economy and environment

At the same time, Merkel warned pupils against expecting rapid measures aimed at protecting the world against global warming.

"I know that the students want many things to go faster, such as the exit from coal," Merkel said. "But as head of government, I must point out that we have to take a lot of things into consideration: We have to reconcile jobs and economic health with the goals of climate protection."

'It's not about me, it's about the climate'

She said that the government had therefore decided on 2038 as the date by which Germany would stop its reliance on coal-fired energy.

"From the point of view of the students, that perhaps seems very long, but [the exit] will be a great challenge, and I appeal to them to understand that, too," the chancellor said.

Read more: Germany to fall short of 2020 climate goals: report

'A matter for free time'

Merkel's supportive remarks form a contrast to the negative view taken of the protests by several other German politicians, who have called on students not to miss school to take part in demonstrations.

Education Minister Anja Karliczek, a fellow member of Merkel's Christian Democrats, on Friday told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that although she welcomed the students' political involvement, "even commitment that is worthy of support should be a matter for free time and is no justification for truancy." 

The student protests in Germany and elsewhere have been taking place on Fridays, following the model of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, and have become known as Fridays for Future.

This week, Thunberg, 16, who has been protesting in front of the Swedish parliament since August 2018, mostly on Fridays, joined German students for a climate march in the northern city of Hamburg.

She has now inspired a worldwide student movement, with a global demonstration under the motto "Global Strike for Future" planned for Friday March 15.

tj/jlw (dpa, epd)

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