Greta Thunberg scolds world leaders at the UN

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Here is a full transcript of Greta Thunberg's speech to the UN.  It's on Treehugger.

"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. 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 8.5 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.

The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.

To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world had 420 gigatonnes of COs left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatonnes. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business-as-usual and some technical solutions. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years.

There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today. Because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

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."


Reading the words in cold print doesn't convey the impassioned, pained reality of the address.  I've watched the video a number of times and its raw viscerally must have been shocking for the UN Assembly.  This is an institution that has seen much drama over its lifetime, but nothing like this, I'd imagine.  And those of you who think that the drama was more intense because she was there in person, rather than on video, are surely right.  But I worried about the toll this might well be taking on her.

It is said that Greta's great virtue is that she tells it "as it is".  The ultimate speaking of truth to power – although many of the powerful did not bother to turn up to hear her, and the UN itself is not as powerful as many think or would like, and probably never will be.  Perhaps her greatest virtue is that she's not a hypocrite (unlike many green gurus), and manages to walk the talk (whilst talking about the walk).  It's impressive by any standards.

All that said, I do have considerable reservations about her messaging and think that the exaggerated and apocalyptic tone of what she says is really not helpful if we are to continue to work together to do something.  Hope is surely a better psychological approach to the adaptation and mitigation that is needed than is despair, especially when you are the inspiration for millions of young people round the world who follow what you say.  Greta calls on world leaders to listen to the science, but the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the impact of climate change are not as bleak as what she seems to be saying about our future.

The Times reports that she has joined 15 other child protesters in filing a formal complaint to the UN that nations including Brazil, Germany, Turkey and France had violated international children’s rights by failing to take sufficiently bold measures to reduce carbon emissions.  This has not gone down well in France and Germany with President Macron & Chancellor Merkel showing their irritation.  Especially galling for Macron, no doubt, because of his real-world difficulties in establishing a carbon tax on motor fuel.  Brune Poirson, the French ecology minister, is quoted as questioning whether she could succeed in “mobilising people with despair, with what is verging on hatred, setting people against one another”.  Indeed.  And Mrs Merkel said: "She did not adequately address the way technology and innovation, especially in the energy sector but also in energy conservation, raise possibilities for reaching our goals."  Indeed again.

It's been interesting listening to that gloom/doom speech and the fallout from it and contrasting it with what The Economist has been saying about our futures.  I prefer the latter's encouraging message of hope through social and technological collaboration and innovation, and I wish I thought that young people were getting a balanced picture of all the options – whilst agreeing with Greta that world leaders are not doing enough!

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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