Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old student from Sweden, captured the attention of the world recently when she shamed climate change negotiators at a United Nations climate summit in Poland.
“You are not mature enough to tell it like is,” she said at the COP24 summit, which ended late Saturday night after two weeks of tense negotiations. “Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet.”
The climate talks resulted in nearly 200 nations agreeing to a set of rules that will govern the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial levels. Even the negotiators know they’re not doing nearly enough to reach that goal and avoid disastrous effects of climate chance, which include the end of coral reefs, rising seas, stronger superstorms and deadlier heatwaves.
Thunberg and other young people emerged as among the strongest moral voices at the talks, which went into overtime amid disputes about the scientific consensus on global warming, which has shown for decades that burning coal, oil and gas wreaks havoc on people and the planet.
The teen has inspired thousands of young people around the world to walk out of their schools on Fridays to demand adults take more action to protect their futures and those of future generations. She decided to walk out of her own school in Sweden, she told CNN, by herself. No one joined her the first day, she said. Then she kept at it, inspiring thousands.
“People started joining me,” she said.
Last Friday, a number of students left their classes and walked into the conference center in Katowice, Poland, where the UN talks were held. They held signs that, together, read: “12 years left.” That’s a reference to the latest dire report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says global climate targets could become impossible in just 12 years. The report says emissions need to be cut about in half by 2030, which would require a near-complete overhaul of the global energy system.
“Adults sometimes forget about the young people,” said Małgorzata Czachowska, one of the Polish students inspired by Thunberg.
Toby Thorpe heard about Thunberg in Tasmania, Australia, and led a walkout of his own. That led to more than 10,000 students walking out of classes, he told CNN. He and others hope that effort will grow.
Thunberg, who describes herself on Twitter as a “15 year old climate activist with Asperger’s,” said she was inspired by the school walkouts in the United States that followed the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
She is asking students around the world to walk out of their classes each Friday to demand adults take climate action. Those actions include big systems changes like transitioning to cleaner sources of energy including wind and solar power. Thunberg told CNN she doesn’t fly, doesn’t eat meat (beef is a major contributor to climate change) and tries not to buy new things unless they’re absolutely necessary in order to do her part.
She uses the hashtags #climatestrike and #fridaysforfuture.
“We have done this many times before and with so little results,” she told CNN. “Something big needs to happen. People need to realize our political leaders have failed us. And we need to take action into our own hands.”
Here is the full text of her speech at COP24 in Poland:
My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old. I am from Sweden.
I speak on behalf of Climate Justice Now.
Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do.