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Greta Thunberg at #DavosAgenda: Here's how climate experts responded to her speech

Greta Thunberg, Climate and Environmental Activist, Sweden speaking in the Averting a Climate Apocalypse at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 21 January. Congress Centre - Sanada. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Manuel Lopez

Lights, climate, action ... experts and economists agree climate progress isn't happening fast enough. Image: Flickr/World Economic Foru

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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: The Davos Agenda
  • Greta Thunberg has urged world leaders to take immediate steps to address the environmental crisis.
  • Activists from around the world share her concern that international and national climate commitments aren’t being translated quickly enough into sustainable action.
  • Greenpeace Executive Director says COVID-19 pandemic has shown that only a multilateral approach to tackling climate change will work.

Greta Thunberg's latest criticism of inaction over climate change has been welcomed by activists and economists.


In a video message to the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda week of virtual meetings, the Swedish campaigner accused political and business leaders of dragging their feet on tackling the crisis.

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Proposals to reverse global warming are “vague, insufficient, hypothetical targets way into the future”, she said.

“You’ve now had more than three decades of bla bla bla. How many more do you need?” Thunberg asked the annual gathering, held online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaders should not forget previous commitments to action, she said, urging them to “implement annual binding carbon budgets based on the current best available science”.

“The climate and ecological crisis can unfortunately no longer be solved within today’s systems,” Thunberg said.

We asked five activists, leaders and economists to respond to her speech. Here’s what they said...

Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace

a pictue of jenifer morgan
Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace Image: WEF Flikr / Walter Duerst

Greenpeace’s Executive Director said many people around the world agreed with the teenage activist’s call for immediate action.

The pandemic has “shown us where multilateralism can make a real difference in finding solutions. And these are valuable lessons as we turn to the bigger crisis upon us, the climate crisis”, she said.

“Globally, we need strong rules to counter the climate emergency and to fight inequality. Environmental and social bodies should be able to impose sanctions and fines.

“Corporate accountability and liability need to extend to all corporate impacts on people and the environment around the world. Tax rules, similarly, need to be revamped to put people and planet first.”

Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard University

a picture of Kenneth Rogoff
Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard University. Image: WEF Flikr / Boris Baldinger

The public policy and economics professor said Thunberg’s ability to rally young people would lead to change but “ultimately, politicians are the ones who need to be held accountable”.

He suggested ”a global compact” between business and governments was needed to translate sustainability pledges into action.

He also called on wealthy countries to offer technical and financial support to help poorer countries move to cleaner energy and higher environmental standards. Among the tools that could bring that about is a global carbon tax, he said.

“It's not really very complicated what needs to be done. However, we have to bring together everyone to try to do that.”

a picture of Ibrahim Thiaw
Ibrahim Thiaw, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Image: UN Environment

“The science is clear, our planet is in danger,” said Thiaw, Executive Secretary of UNCCD.

Thiaw believes hope lies in a different approach to land use. UNCCD’s efforts to restore land made barren by human misuse and global warming is a vital component of Thunberg’s call for change, he said.

“Anytime you restore land, you actually have it as a carbon sink,” he said. “And it turns out that land is the largest carbon carbon sink that we have right now on Earth.”

Thiaw pointed to the African-led Great Green Wall project as a beacon of hope, both for the environment and the people who live on the continent. The scheme unites more than 20 African countries in creating fertile land to provide food, jobs and a sustainable future.

Tabi Joda, founder of One Billion Trees for Africa

a picture of Tabi Joda
Tabi Joda, founder of One Billion Trees for Africa. Image: Facebook/Tabi Joda

Conservationist Joda said climate change is having a profound impact on poorer communities on the frontline of the environmental crisis.

“Supporting Greta Thunberg’s message and translating it into real concrete action, driving and raising wider public awareness across the entire globe, calling our leaders to action and holding them responsible, this is the task we all should be behind now,” he said.

Chineyenwa Okoru Onu, WEF Social Entrepreneur and founder of Waste Or Create Hub

Ghana-based Okoru Onu said young people had much to contribute to the climate solution and they wanted action now.

“Leaders should support young people all over the world that are not just adding their voice, but innovating for sustainability and climate action. We need opportunities, finance and a seat at the table.”

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