Greta Thunberg doesn’t mince words. Not even when addressing the world’s most powerful people.
Before world leaders made their promises in three-minute speeches at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg gave an emotional appeal in which she chided the leaders with the repeated phrase, “How dare you.”
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here,” said Thunberg, who began a lone protest outside the Swedish parliament more than a year ago that culminated in Friday’s global climate strikes. “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you have come to us young people for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
She told the U.N. that even the strictest emission cuts being talked about only gives the world a 50% chance of limiting future warming to another 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) from now, which is a global goal. Those odds are not good enough, she said.
“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” Thunberg said. “How dare you?”
The 16-year-old was visibly frustrated with her audience and at times appeared to be holding back tears of anger.
Thunberg’s message to the leaders was clear. Like many times in the past, she accused them of not doing enough to mitigate climate change. “For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away?”
Separately on Monday, Thunberg and 15 other children filed a complaint with the United Nations 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 Swedish schoolgirl rose to prominence because of her determination to persuade global leaders to take climate change seriously.
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.
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 America wasn’t easy. Thunberg 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.
“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.
To get her to come to New York to address the United Nations, she was offered the option of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on a 60-foot zero-emissions yacht.
Thunberg 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.