Climate Change

Greta Thunberg brings youth fury to the Madrid climate summit

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg arrives aboard the yacht La Vagabonde at Santo Amaro port in Lisbon, Portugal December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante - RC2NND96P05W

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg arrives aboard the yacht La Vagabonde at Santo Amaro port in Lisbon, Portugal. Image: REUTERS/Rafael Marchant

Victoria Waldersee
Trainee Correspondent, Reuters
Antonio Denti
Cameraman, Reuters
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Climate Change?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Climate Change is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Climate Change

  • Greta Thunberg has arrived in Europe to attend a United Nations summit
  • Carolina Schmidt, environment minister of Chile, said she hoped Thunberg’s presence would galvanize more ambitious commitments by governments

Teen activist Greta Thunberg reached Europe on Tuesday after a 21-day catamaran dash across the Atlantic for a United Nations summit where she will invoke the fury of global youth at politicians’ foot-dragging over climate change.

“People are underestimating the force of angry kids,” the Swede told a crowd of reporters and supporters as she disembarked from a white catamaran, La Vagabonde, in Portugal.

“They’re angry and frustrated.”

The prospect of another fiery intervention by the 16-year-old, whose ability to stare down politicians has inspired a global protest movement, electrified younger delegates at the international climate talks underway in neighboring Spain.

Environmental activists welcome climate change activist Greta Thunberg as she arrives in Spain.
Image: REUTERS/Rafael Marchante - RC2OND98VCFC

Since staging a solitary protest outside the Swedish parliament more than a year ago, Thunberg has channeled the anger felt by millions of teenagers saddled with the prospect of an escalating climate crisis their parents failed to avert.

In September, she carried her message to a one-day climate summit at the United Nations in New York, furiously telling leaders “you have stolen my dreams,” before sailing back to Europe for the latest round of talks.

Thunberg was due to spend the rest of Tuesday meeting activists in Portugal before departing for Madrid, where the negotiations are being held in a series of hangar-like halls.

Carolina Schmidt, environment minister of Chile, which is chairing the negotiations, said she hoped Thunberg’s presence would galvanize more ambitious commitments by governments at talks aimed at bolstering the 2015 Paris Agreement to avert catastrophic temperature increases.

“We need that tremendous force in order to increase climate action,” Schmidt told Reuters television.

“We need Greta in here with all that force.”

Increasingly erratic weather patterns, from wildfires in Australia and California to floods in Europe, have added to the sense of urgency around the two-week summit in Spain.

Greta travelled with her father.
Image: REUTERS/Rafael Marchante TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC2MND9GE5TP
Have you read?

Hottest decade on record

Underscoring the pace of change, the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization (WMO) launched a report at the talks that found the past decade was almost certain to have been the hottest on record.

In a stark reminder that burning fossil fuels has fundamentally changed the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, the report said the concentration of carbon dioxide hit a record 407.8 parts per million in 2018 and rose again in 2019, hovering at the highest levels seen in millions of years.

Opening the climate summit on Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had warned that 400 parts per million had once been considered an “unthinkable” tipping point.

Despite the grim statistics, young delegates said they were inspired by Thunberg’s determination to minimize her own carbon footprint by twice braving the Atlantic instead of flying: which they saw as a symbol of resourcefulness and defiance.

“She is making a statement that you don’t always have to take the easy way,” said Lander Wanters, 20, a Belgian climate activist. “We have to act now to do something for the climate.”

Image: REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

Delegates at the talks aim to finalize groundwork to support the Paris pact to curb the rise in global temperatures, which enters a crucial implementation phase in 2020. Last year, greenhouse gas emissions hit a record high.

“At the negotiators level, they are working to try and close any loopholes to make sure that you have a strong agreement that works,” said Stephen Cornelius, chief adviser on climate change at the World Wildlife Fund UK.

“We are hoping it will all be completed here in Madrid.”

Existing commitments fall far short of the kind of radical action to transform energy, transport, heating and agricultural systems that scientists say is needed to steer the world off its current course towards disastrous levels of warming.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Climate ChangeSustainable DevelopmentFuture of the Environment
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

1 in 5 migratory species are at risk of extinction, says a new UN report

Simon Torkington

February 21, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum