Fifteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg minced no words at the COP24 climate talks in Katowice, Poland this week. Speaking to the assembled countries Wednesday, at the most important climate negotiating meeting since the Paris talks in 2015, she said:
The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.
As of Saturday, delegates were nearing an agreement on a rulebook for how the Paris Agreement will be implemented over the next several years. The text to come out of COP24 will decide, for example, how greenhouse gases will be counted, and how the international community will verify that countries are actually taking the steps they committed to on paper.
But “the result will not be the breakthrough campaigners and some countries were hoping for,” according to the Guardian. It notes that the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait have managed to water down a resolution to acknowledge a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that found a temperature rise of 1.5°C would be disastrous for life on Earth. (Meanwhile the US, which has vowed to pull out of the Paris Agreement, hosted a pro-coal event at the meeting.)
In a speech lasting under five minutes, Thunberg castigated leaders at the talks for decades of inaction and too-small steps in the face of climate crisis.
You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. 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. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.
Thunberg led Swedish students in mass walkouts from school earlier this year, and last month thousands of students in Australia, inspired by her, also left their classrooms.
Thunberg is on the autism spectrum, which she connects to her focused interest in climate change. As she told the New Yorker’s Masha Gessen earlier this year, “I see the world a bit different, from another perspective. I have a special interest. It’s very common that people on the autism spectrum have a special interest.”