On Monday September 23, the calm reserve of teenage activist Greta Thunberg slipped as she stood before world leaders at the UN and lambasted them for their failure to take appropriate measures to combat climate change, despite decades’ worth of science that warned of current conditions. “For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here and say that you are doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight?”
“How dare you,” she said, visibly upset.
Greta’s efforts to bring attention to the climate crisis, and the ensuing activism, has gained momentum over the last year. She started solo in 2018, with weekly “Fridays for Future” school strikes outside Swedish parliament. On Friday, September 20, millions of people around the world took part in a climate strike, protesting the inaction of their respective leaders to tackle this crisis.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” Greta said, adding that the plans that leaders will unveil will not be enough to respond to the rate of the planet’s warming.
US President Donald Trump, an avid climate change denier who has reversed every major US regulation aimed at combating climate change, made a brief appearance in the audience of the summit along with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, though he did not give any remarks. There was a brief moment of audience levity when former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who serves as the UN special envoy on climate action, addressed President Trump: “Hopefully our deliberations will be helpful to you as you formulate climate policy.”
And a change of policy is urgent, as Greta said, “How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business as usual and some technical solutions? With today’s emission levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8.5 years. There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today because these numbers are too uncomfortable and you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is. You are failing us.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Germany would double Germany’s current contribution of EUR 2 million to a UN fund to support less developed countries to combat climate change.
Over 60 world leaders and CEOs of energy and financial companies are expected to address the conference and announce climate finance measures and transitioning from coal power.
With climate impacts such as extreme weather, thawing permafrost and sea-level rise unfolding much faster than expected, scientists say the urgency of the crisis has intensified since the Paris accord was agreed.
“The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us 50 per cent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees and [avoid] the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control. Fifty per cent may be acceptable to you, but those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So, a 50 per cent risk is simply not acceptable to us, we who have to live with the consequences,” Greta said in her impassioned speech.
While certain countries have made progress in the fight against climate change, some of the biggest emitting countries remain far behind.
Greta concluded with a stern warning to world leaders. “Young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say, we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now, is where we draw the line. The world is waking up and change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Watch her speech here: