Climate activist Greta Thunberg accused world leaders of failing her generation in a powerful, damning speech at the United Nations on Monday.
"This is all wrong," said Thunberg, the 16-year-old who launched a massive climate strike movement that drew millions to the streets last Friday. "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!"
Thunberg's address came at the start of the UN Climate Action Summit, a day devoted to world leaders sharing climate solutions and new pledges for climate action.
"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words," Thunberg added. "And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. 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 fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"
The Swedish activist emphasized that the science behind climate change has been "crystal clear" for more than 30 years, and yet the General Assembly, for all its words, had failed to take meaningful action. When Thunberg testified before the US Congress last week, she submitted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on the climate impacts predicted with 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming in lieu of prepared remarks.
"How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight," she said.
"You say you 'hear' us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that."
After her speech, Thunberg happened to be in the lobby of the United Nations as President Donald Trump arrived — and news cameras from around the world captured the instantly memeworthy expression on her face as he walked by.
Trump was only at the climate summit for about 14 minutes, according to the White House pool report, and did not make any formal statement. Trump has questioned his own government's climate scientists, vowed to withdraw the US from the main global climate agreement, the Paris climate accord, and his administration has rolled back dozens of climate rules and initiatives.
Neither the US, the largest historical emitter of climate pollution, nor China, the current biggest polluter, offered any new goals today. But some other countries took on the mantle. A Russian official announced it was finally ratifying the Paris climate agreement, making it one of the last countries to take this step. Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová said her country would end subsidies to coal mines in 2023, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her nation would phase out coal power by 2038, among a series of climate targets, according to Climate Home News. And more than 60 countries pledged to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Thunberg's emotional speech left a strong impression on international politicians at the summit.
“I was just so moved by her statement, and I think I agree in totality with what she has said," Mohammad Abubakar, Nigeria's minister of environment, told BuzzFeed News.
Referring to Thunberg's climate strike movement, Abubakar added: "The strike all across the world just a test of something to come. It might be something bigger if nothing is done."
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said at a UN press briefing that the speech "moved us deeply."
"Her words and where she was coming from is so powerful," Colau said, later adding that these kids "have to act like adults in front of the actual adults."
Following her speech, Thunberg joined 15 young people in filing a first-of-its-kind petition to the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child, accusing five countries — Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey — of violating human rights through their contributions to climate change.
Specifically, they are asking the committee's 18 experts to accept the petition and agree to investigate, and, ultimately, to find that climate change is a crisis for children’s rights and issue recommendations for the named countries on how they can better respond to climate change. The recommendations laid out in the complaint would be legally binding if approved by the committee, but there's no real method in place to ensure the countries follow through. And given how vague some of the requests are, it would also be hard to measure progress.
"The goal of the petition is to get these nations, as well as others, to act swiftly to combat climate change in the fullest and faster way possible," said Jill Tauber, vice president of litigation for climate and energy for Earthjustice.
The environmental law nonprofit is co-counsel on the petition and details the specifics of the complaint — including why it targets five specific countries — on its website.
Per an Earthjustice press release posted Monday, every country except the United States has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"Of those countries, 45 agreed to an additional protocol that allows children to petition the UN directly about treaty violations. Within that group of 45 nations, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey are pumping out some of the most pollution that causes climate change," the nonprofit added. "None of the five is on a path needed to keep the planet from heating to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius."
To some observers in the climate world, the sum of climate pledges announced today was underwhelming. “In her blunt and powerful speech at the Climate Action Summit this morning, Greta Thunberg laid down a clear line in the sand, separating those countries and leaders who are united behind the science from those who continue to place the profits of fossil fuel polluters above the safety of their citizens," Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. "Sadly, most leaders from the world’s largest emitting countries failed this litmus test, dodging their responsibility to step up action as is essential to address the climate emergency we now face."
Read Greta Thunberg's full speech at the UN Climate Action Summit:
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. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. 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!
For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.
You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.
The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.
Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences.
To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world had 420 gigatons of carbon dioxide left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years.
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.
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.