Climate advocate and founder of the School Strike 4 Climate, Greta Thunberg, has skewered world leaders and their hopes for “eternal economic growth” in a blistering speech.
Addressing the United Nations just days after millions of students took to the streets to protest government inaction on the climate crisis, Thunberg held those same leaders to account.
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“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words and yet I’m one of the lucky ones,” Thunberg told the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
“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.”
In the excoriating speech, the 16-year-old Swede lambasted the goal to reduce emissions by 50 per cent in 10 years, warning that even if the world succeeds in that, there’s still a 50 per cent chance of temperature growth exceeding 1.5C degrees growth, “and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control”.
“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,” Thunberg said.
“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.”
‘I want you to act as if the house was on fire’
This is not the first time Thunberg - who has been protesting for the last year - has targeted the link between economic growth and climate degradation.
In a speech to the World Economic Forum’s summit in Davos, Switzerland this year, Thunberg called on global leaders to “act as if the house was on fire, because it is”.
“Here in Davos, just like everywhere else, everyone is talking about money. It seems that money and growth are our only main concerns. And since the climate crisis is a crisis that has never once been treated as a crisis, people are simply not aware of the full consequences of our everyday life,” Thunberg said in January.
“People are not aware that there is such a thing as a carbon budget, and just how incredible small that remaining carbon budget is. And that needs to change today.
“No other current challenge can match the importance of establishing a wide public awareness and understanding of our rapidly disappearing carbon budgets that should and must become a new global currency in the very heart of future and present economics.”
She said that while Davos is a place where “people like to tell success stories”, those financial success stories have attached an “unthinkable price tag”.
‘Someone is to blame’
While Thunberg has criticised leaders for inaction and the media for failing to raise awareness, she has reserved a large portion of the blame for companies profiting off damaging practices.
“Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we all have created. But that is just another convenient lie. Because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame,” Thunberg said at Davos.
“And someone is to blame. Some people - some companies and some decision makers in particular - has known exactly what priceless values they are sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money.
“I want to challenge those companies and those decision makers into real and bold climate action. To set their economic goals aside and to safeguard the future living conditions for human kind.”
Grow now, clean up later approach
In a TEDX presentation, Thunberg highlighted the role that wealthy nations play in helping lower socioeconomic status countries become more environmentally conscious.
“Hardly anyone ever speak[s] about the aspect of equity or climate justice, clearly stated everywhere in the Paris agreement, which is absolutely necessary to make it work on a global scale. That means that rich countries need to get down to zero emissions within 6 to 12 years with today's emission speed,” Thunberg said.
“And that is so that people in poorer countries can have a chance to heighten the standard of living by building some of the infrastructure that we have already built, such as roads, schools, hospitals, clean drinking water, electricity and so on.
“Because how can we expect countries like India or Nigeria to care about the climate crisis if we who already have everything don't care even a second about it, or our actual commitments to the Paris agreement.”
A 2006 study published in the Environment, Development and Sustainability journal highlighted the “grow now, clean up later” approach to the environment adopted by many developing countries, which is to chase the economic growth at the cost of the environment and then “clean up” later.
However, that approach has been soundly criticised, with the question now turning to how to include developing countries in the benefits of global growth, without sacrificing environmental protections.
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