The Swedish student Greta Thunberg has accused world leaders of failing her generation by not reining in carbon emissions, and stealing her childhood by uttering “empty words” on climate change.
In a passionate and often angry address to the UN climate action summit in New York, the 16-year old said: “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.”
The summit has been called by UN secretary general António Guterres to kickstart plans from countries to rein in their carbon emissions and meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Around 60 heads of state are attending the event, which comes after the world’s biggest climate change protest took place across the world last Friday.
Thunberg berated them: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales 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.”
The climate campaigner cited work by the UN climate science panel which suggests the world’s remaining ‘carbon budget’ – what can be emitted before Earth is committed to more than 1.5°C of warming – would be blown in eight and a half years.
“There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today because these numbers are too uncomfortable. You are still not mature enough to tell it like it is. You are failing us.”
She continued: “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.”
Thunberg’s speech came after a strong attack on the fossil fuel industry by Guterres.
“There is a cost to everything. But the biggest cost is doing nothing. The biggest cost is subsidising a dying fossil fuel industry, building more and more coal power 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.” Ending fossil fuel subsidies has been one of the secretary general’s four key demands of world leaders ahead of today’s summit.
Angela Merkel told the meeting that Germany would increase its climate finance funding to developing countries from €2 billion to €4 billion. “We all have had the wake-up call of young people,” she said.
Several countries took swipes at the United States and president Donald Trump, who was at the summit for around 10 minutes but did not give a speech. French president Emmanuel Macron expressed his disappointment at the shortfall in funding the US had created for the Green Climate Fund. Wang Yi, speaking on behalf of Chinese president Xi Jinping, said “the withdrawal of certain parties will not shake the collective will” of other countries, in a veiled reference to the US.
The summit comes a day after the UN weather agency released a new report noting 2015-2019 is on track to be the warmest five-year period on record. The report also said that under governments’ country carbon-cutting plans – known as the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – the world will warm by between 2.9°C and 3.4°C by 2100. The UN summit is intended to galvanise political momentum for more ambitious NDCs.