Greta Thunberg accuses politicians of looking for carbon trading loopholes

Swedish activist (16) named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg accused political and business leaders of polishing their images rather than taking aggressive action in the fight against climate change at this year's United Nations climate summit. Video: Reuters


Political and business leaders have been accused of looking for loopholes in trading carbon and attempting to polish their image in the fight against climate change by the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

In her formal address to UN climate talks - COP25 - in Madrid she outlined what the science is now saying about accelerating climate shocks, and wished to let the evidence speak for itself, rather than deploying her usual approach of telling politicians “the world is on fire” in an effort to shock them into action.

It was also announced on Wednesday that Ms Thunberg was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019.

She was critical of how global leaders were negotiating when the world was reaching dangerous tipping points: “Finding holistic solutions is what the COP should be all about, but instead it seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition.

“Countries are finding clever ways around having to take real action, like double-counting emissions reductions, and moving emissions overseas, and walking back on their promises to increase ambitions, or refusing to pay for solutions or loss and damage. This has to stop.”

Rich countries needed to do their fair share and get down to real zero emissions much faster and then help poorer countries do the same so people in less fortunate parts of the world can help raise their living standards, Ms Thunberg said. “We indeed have some work to do but some more than others.”

Commitments to reduce their emissions by a certain date, including promises to achieve net-zero by 2050, appeared impressive at first glance. “This is not leading, this is misleading,” she added, warning that the targets did not include aviation and shipping, or emissions created by goods made in other countries and imported - and did include “offsetting” emissions.

“Zero by 2050 means nothing if high emissions continue for even a few years. Then the remaining budget will be gone,” Ms Thunberg pointed out.

Drastic emissions cuts

The latest science showed that, at the current rate of emissions, the world was set to use up the whole “carbon budget” - the amount of pollution that can be put into the atmosphere and still keep global warming to 1.5 degrees - in eight years.

She said real, drastic emissions cuts were needed, and carbon had to stay in the ground to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees.

“The biggest danger is not inaction; the real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening, when in fact almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR,” she warned.

Countries previously committed to curbing global warming at “well below” two degrees above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to keep temperature rises to 1.5 degrees in the Paris Agreement secured in 2015 but were way off achieving what was required.

“Our leaders are not behaving as if we are in an emergency.”

“Even at 1 degree, people are dying from the climate crisis” while going beyond 1.5 degrees risks “destabilising the climate and hitting irreversible tipping points such as melting glaciers and permafrost,” she said.

“Tell me how do you react to these numbers without feeling at least some level of panic. How do you respond to the fact that basically nothing is being done about this without feeling the slightest bit of anger and how do you communicate this without sounding alarmist? I would really like to know.”

She finished her speech on a more hopeful note: “In just three weeks we will enter a new decade, a decade that will define our future. Right now we are desperate for any sign of hope. There is hope – I’ve seen it – but it does not come from the governments or corporations, it comes from the people. The people who have been unaware are now starting to wake up.”

She said people have democracy, “all the time, not just at elections,” and public opinion runs the free world.

The activist, who began a solo protest outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018, concluded by adding: “Every great change in history comes from the people. We can start the change right now, we the people.”

At the end of a panel discussion on “the climate emergency” in which she participated, young climate protesters took to the stage and refused to leave in spite of efforts by security staff to resume formal proceedings.

They shouted chants of “power to the people” and “systems change, not climate change” repeatedly before withdrawing.