Teen Climate Activist Confronts World Leaders at UN Summit

Democracy Now! is broadcasting from the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, this week, where world leaders gathered to negotiate climate solutions were confronted last week by a teenage climate activist who says they are not doing enough to turn back the clock and prevent catastrophic climate change. Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg stunned the world last week when she denounced world leaders for inaction and told them: “Change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.” She has made international headlines since launching a school strike against climate change in her home country of Sweden earlier this year. Every Friday, she protests outside the parliament building in Stockholm instead of attending school, and her actions have inspired thousands of students across the globe to do the same. Before we speak with Thunberg in person, we play an excerpt of her speech that went viral. “I like school, and I like learning,” said Greta, who plans to end her strike when Sweden starts cutting carbon emissions by 15 percent a year. “But why should we be studying for a future that soon may be no more? This is more important than school, I think.”

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, where world leaders are gathered to negotiate climate solutions that could dictate policy for years to come. But we begin today’s program with a climate activist who says politicians here are not doing enough to turn back the clock and prevent catastrophic climate change: 15-year-old Greta Thunberg.

She’s made international headlines since launching a school strike against climate change in her home country of Sweden earlier this year. She sat on the steps of the parliament in Stockholm every school day for three weeks, leading up to the Swedish election in September, to demand that politicians take more radical action to stop global warming. After the election, she went back to school, but only for four days a week, because every Friday Greta continues to sit outside the parliament building. Her actions have inspired thousands of students across the globe to do the same. Greta has Asperger’s syndrome. She has focused with laser intensity on climate change since she was 9 years old. She brought her message directly to world leaders here in Katowice at the UN climate summit. Here she is addressing UN Secretary-General António Guterres last week.

GRETATHUNBERG:For 25 years, countless of people have stood in front of the United Nations climate conferences asking our nations’ leaders to stop the emissions. But clearly this has not worked, since the emissions just continue to rise. So I will not ask them anything. Instead, I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us, because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness.

Rich countries like Sweden need to start reducing emissions by at least 15 percent every year to stay below a 2-degree warming target. You would think the media and every one of our leaders would be talking about nothing else, but they never even mention it. Nor does hardly anyone ever mention that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, with up to 200 species going extinct every single day. Furthermore does no one ever speak about the aspect of equity, clearly stated in the Paris Agreement, which is absolutely necessary to make it work on a global scale. That means that rich countries like mine need to get down to zero emissions within six to 12 years, with today’s emission speed. Because how can we expect countries like India, Colombia or Nigeria to care about the climate crisis if we, who already have everything, don’t care even a second about our actual commitments to the Paris Agreement?

So, when school started in August this year, I sat myself down on the ground outside the Swedish parliament. I school-striked for the climate. Some people say that I should be in school instead. Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can “solve” the climate crisis. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. And why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly means nothing to our society?

Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So we can no longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed. So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past, and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming, whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Greta Thunberg addressing the United Nations here in Katowice, Poland. Renowned climate activist Kevin Anderson tweeted, “On climate change @GretaThunberg demonstrates more clarity & leadership in one speech than a quarter of a century of the combined contributions of so called world leaders. Wilful ignorance & lies have overseen a 65% rise in CO2 since 1990. Time to hand over the baton,” he tweeted.