[This report carries Greta Thunberg’s full speech at the UN Climate Action Summit.]
Greta Thunberg, the young climate crisis activist on Monday opened the United Nations Climate Action Summit with an angry condemnation of world leaders for failing to take strong measures to combat climate crisis – “How dare you,” she said.
“This is all wrong,” said Thunberg, the 16-year-old who launched a massive climate strike movement that drew millions to the streets last Friday. “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!”
Greta does not mince words. Not even when addressing the world’s most powerful people.
“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” the Swedish climate activist told the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Monday. “How dare you?”
Speaking during the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, the activist was visibly frustrated with her audience and at times appeared to be holding back tears of anger.
Days after millions of young people took to the streets worldwide to demand emergency action on climate change, leaders gathered for the annual UNGA aiming to inject fresh momentum into stalling efforts to curb carbon emissions.
She started with weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish Parliament, holding a handmade “School Climate Strike” sign. In just a few months, the one-girl protest grew into a worldwide movement, with students walking out of schools in well over 100 countries.
A visibly emotional Greta Thunberg said in stern remarks at the opening of the summit that the generations that have polluted the most have burdened her and her generation with the extreme impacts of climate change.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.”
“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.
“Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic,” she told the rich and powerful gathered in the Swiss mountain resort.
Like in New York on Monday, her speech was met with a stunned silence, then an overwhelming applause.
She said her message to the global leaders gathered in New York is simple: “We are watching you.”
“If you chose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you,” she added.
“How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight,” she said.
“You say you ‘hear’ us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.”
Greta has galvanized a new wave of climate crisis activism through her weekly Fridays for Future school strikes, which she began with her weekly, solitary protests outside of the Swedish parliament.
The 5 violators of human rights
Following her speech, separately on Monday, Greta and 15 other children filed a complaint with the UN alleging that five of the world’s leading economies have violated their human rights by not taking adequate action to stop the unfolding climate crisis.
The petition names five countries — Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey — that they say have failed to uphold their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a 30-year-old human rights treaty that is the most widely ratified in history.
The filing of the petition to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child is the first-of-its-kind.
Specifically, they are asking the committee’s 18 experts to accept the petition and agree to investigate, and, ultimately, to find that climate change is a crisis for children’s rights and issue recommendations for the named countries on how they can better respond to climate change. The recommendations laid out in the complaint would be legally binding if approved by the committee, but there is no real method in place to ensure the countries follow through. And given how vague some of the requests are, it would be hard to measure progress.
“The goal of the petition is to get these nations, as well as others, to act swiftly to combat climate change in the fullest and faster way possible,” said Jill Tauber, vice president of litigation for climate and energy for Earthjustice.
The environmental law nonprofit is co-counsel on the petition and details the specifics of the complaint — including why it targets five specific countries — on its website.
Except the U.S.
Per an Earthjustice press release posted Monday, every country except the U.S. has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“Of those countries, 45 agreed to an additional protocol that allows children to petition the UN directly about treaty violations. Within that group of 45 nations, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey are pumping out some of the most pollution that causes climate change,” the NGO added. “None of the five is on a path needed to keep the planet from heating to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius.”
Underwhelming climate pledge
More than 60 countries pledged to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.
But to some observers in the climate world, the sum of climate pledges announced was underwhelming.
“In her blunt and powerful speech at the Climate Action Summit this morning, Greta Thunberg laid down a clear line in the sand, separating those countries and leaders who are united behind the science from those who continue to place the profits of fossil fuel polluters above the safety of their citizens,” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “Sadly, most leaders from the world’s largest emitting countries failed this litmus test, dodging their responsibility to step up action as is essential to address the climate emergency we now face.”
Nature is angry
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had warned governments ahead of the event that they would have to offer action plans to qualify to speak at the summit, which is aimed at boosting the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat global warming.
In his opening remarks, he tried to capture the urgency of climate change and called out the fossil fuel industry.
“Nature is angry. And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature, because nature always strikes back, and around the world nature is striking back with fury,” Guterres said.
“There is a cost to everything. But the biggest cost is doing nothing. The biggest cost is subsidizing a dying fossil fuel industry, building more and more coal plants, and denying what is plain as day: that we are in a deep climate hole, and to get out we must first stop digging,” he said.
Thunberg and Trump
After her speech, Greta Thunberg happened to be in the lobby of the UN as President Donald Trump arrived — and news cameras from around the world captured the instantly memeworthy expression on her face as he walked by.
Trump was only at the climate summit for about 14 minutes, according to the White House pool report, and did not make any formal statement.
Trump has questioned his own government’s climate scientists, vowed to withdraw the U.S. from the main global climate agreement, the Paris climate accord, and his administration has rolled back dozens of climate rules and initiatives.
Trump, a climate change denier who has undone every major U.S. 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. He did not give remarks but he listened to remarks by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who serves as the U.N. special envoy on climate action, called out Trump’s stealth appearance before he spoke on Monday: “Hopefully our deliberations will be helpful to you as you formulate climate policy,” he said to audience laughter.
Russia ratifying Paris agreement
A Russian official announced it was finally ratifying the Paris climate agreement, making it one of the last countries to take this step.
Slovakia to end coal subsidy
Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová said her country would end subsidies to coal mines in 2023.
Germany to phase out of coal
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her nation would phase out coal power by 2038, among a series of climate targets.
Merkel announced Germany would double Germany’s contribution to a UN fund to support less developed countries to combat climate change to 4 billion euros from 2 billion euros.
Greta Thunberg’s full speech at the UN Climate Action Summit:
This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.
You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.
The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.
Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences.
To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world had 420 gigatons of carbon dioxide left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years.
There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today. Because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.
You are failing us. But the 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.
Greta Thunberg is taking a sabbatical year from school to attend conferences and meetings with policymakers and those impacted by climate change.
But persuading her to come to New York was not easy. Greta refuses to fly because of the high levels of emissions from air travel. When she traveled to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, she traveled by train. It took her 32 hours.
To get her to come to New York to address the UN, she was offered the option of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on a 60-foot zero-emissions yacht.