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‘You have stolen my dreams,’ Greta Thunberg tells world leaders

Swedish teenage activist addresses UN climate summit in New York

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has admonished world leaders during a speech at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. Video: UN Web TV

Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks during the UN Climate Action Summit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Photograph: Timothy Clary/Getty Images

Greta Thunberg told world leaders at the opening of a United Nations climate conference on Monday that they had stolen her childhood with “empty words”.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” the Swedish teenage activist said at the summit in New York, admonishing adults for not doing enough to protect the environment.

The climate summit is being attended by leaders from about 60 countries, including Ireland.

Also attending the summit in New York are the leaders of small island states most at risk from rising sea levels and companies expected to make fresh pledges to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

“We are in the middle of a climate breakdown, and all they can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth,” Ms Thunberg (16) said in her speech.

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.

People are dying

“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.

“With today’s emissions levels, our remaining CO2 budget will be gone in less than eight and a half years.


“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.

“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.”

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, who convened the summit, had warned governments ahead of the event that they would have to offer action plans to qualify to speak at the summit, which is aimed at boosting the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat global warming.

‘Nature is angry’

In his opening remarks, he tried to capture the urgency of climate change and called out the fossil fuel industry.

“Nature is angry. And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature, because nature always strikes back, and around the world nature is striking back with fury,” Mr Guterres said.

“There is a cost to everything. But the biggest cost is doing nothing. The biggest cost is subsidising a dying fossil fuel industry, building more and more coal plants, and denying what is plain as day: that we are in a deep climate hole, and to get out we must first stop digging,” he said.

World leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi were due to address the one-day gathering, alongside companies working to promote renewable energy.

US president Donald Trump and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, both climate change sceptics, had not been expected to attend, but Trump was seen in the audience as some leaders delivered their speeches after remarks by youth activists.

With climate impacts such as extreme weather, thawing permafrost and sea-level rise unfolding much faster than expected, scientists say the urgency of the crisis has intensified since the Paris accord was agreed. The agreement will enter a crucial implementation phase next year after another round of negotiations in Chile in December.

Catastrophic

Pledges made so far under the agreement are nowhere near enough to avert catastrophic warming, scientists say, and last year carbon emissions hit a record high.

Over the past year, Mr Guterres has called for no new coal plants to be built after 2020, urged a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies and asked countries to map out how to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

While some countries have made progress, some of the biggest emitting countries remain far behind, even as wildfires, heat waves and record temperatures have provided glimpses of the devastation that could lie in store in a warmer world.

In a measure of the gap between government action and the ever-louder alarms sounded by climate scientists, the United Nations Development Programme said that 14 nations representing a quarter of global emissions have signalled that they do not intend to revise current climate plans by 2020.

Meanwhile, activists seeking to pressure US politicians to fight climate change blocked major traffic hubs in Washington DC on Monday.

Activists targeted four locations, including Farragut Square in downtown Washington, Columbus Circle, near the Union Station train terminal and at Folger Park on Capitol Hill.

Just north of the White House, at 16th Street and K Street, activists pushed a small sailboat into the middle of the intersection and chained themselves to it.

Police arrived with a power saw to free the protesters, draping them with heavy blankets to protect them from flying sparks, and called a truck to haul the boat away.

The protest, called Shut Down DC, was backed by about two dozen groups, including the Metro DC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Extinction Rebellion. and Black Lives Matter.