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10K marchers in Helsinki call for decisive climate action from next govt

Demonstrators said that consumers should not bear sole responsibility for combatting climate change.

Some 10,000 people marched for climate peace in Helsinki on Saturday. Image: Timo Jaakonaho / Lehtikuva

Police estimated that around 10,000 protesters descended on downtown Helsinki on Saturday to protest the government's inaction over combatting climate change.

Protesters carried placards and chanted as they made their way through the centre of Helsinki from the Senate Square over to the steps of the Parliament House, starting at 2.00pm.

Demonstrators called for drastic political measures and structural reforms to ensure that the global mean temperature does not rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and that consumers do not end up bearing the brunt of the burden for effecting change.

A crowd of thousands gathered at the Senate Square on Saturday. Image: Timo Jaakonaho / Lehtikuva

Organisers such as Katja Hintikainen said they originally expected between 5,000 and 10,000 protesters.

"The next government has to make the right call," said fellow organiser Matti Ikonen from the "Irreplaceable" (Korvaamaton) campaign. "If we continue to do nothing for another four years I don't know what we'll be able to do."

Concrete measures demanded by the march organisers include halting the sale of petrol-fuelled cars by 2027, defunding power plants that burn fossil fuels and encouraging more plant-oriented food production and consumption by introducing agricultural subsidies and taxes on meat products.

The climate march was organised by the Korvaamaton campaign, which is backed by groups such as Greenpeace, Bird Life, WWF Finland and the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.

The first climate march (Ilmastomarssi I) took place in October 2018, when 8,000 people protested decision-makers' inaction on climate issues.

Change is possible

Ikonen pointed to the lack of real suggestions for climate measures, despite the fact that Finland and nearly all of its political leaders backed ratification of the Paris Agreement along with the rest of the EU in 2015.

"The faster we get some real decisions made, the faster and cheaper it will be to curb global warming," Ikonen said.

Consumers should not be the ones to shoulder the burden of slowing global warming, Ikonen said and he called for legislation to help the public become accustomed to new ways of consuming.

"Changes in consumer behaviour can sometimes turn out to be temporary, but it is clear now that people don't want to eat meat or fly in airplanes as much as they used to."

He compared the change in attitude that the campaign represents to the way cigarettes were viewed in the past. In the 1990s smoking was still ubiquitous, but soon social pressure caused the number of smokers to plummet.

"When society is ready for change, people often come to accept ideas that they previously resisted. Think about light bulbs: people resisted the EU directive banning incandescent bulbs, but now LED lighting – which uses 99 percent less energy – has become common."

President Halonen stands with young strikers

Organisers such as Ikonen say the large turnout for the protest represents hope, as does the global Fridays for Future campaign. Schoolchildren around the world are walking out of school once a week to protest global climate change.

On Friday, one day before the large-scale Helsinki demo, some 200 students turned up to protest global warming on the Parliament steps. They were joined by ex-president Tarja Halonen, who spoke at the rally.

"There is no time to stall on climate change. We have to do everything we can, right now," Halonen said.

She also emphasised the meaning of lifelong learning and the importance of voting.

"Finland will hold the chair of the European Union starting on 1 July. There are only 5.5 million people in Finland, but other countries will listen to us. It is important as the chairing country to express strong demands that people in Finland support."