Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate change activist behind the global school climate strikes movement and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is in the UK – and her visit has turned many of the country's most serious-faced politicians into excitable stans. This is despite her dishing out some harsh truths about the country's stance on climate change.
The Swedish student, who is spending her Easter break taking her message around Europe, gave up flying in 2015 and instead spent two days travelling to the UK by train. On Tuesday morning she met politicians from several parties and addressed MPs directly in a speech in Parliament just after lunchtime. Thunberg's verdict on the country's current stance on climate change was scathing – but that didn't stop MPs from flooding social media with adulatory content (including selfies) of her.
Politicians including Green MP Caroline Lucas, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and Labour MPs Ed Miliband and Diane Abbott (still fresh from her tinned mojito Tube controversy last week), enthusiastically posted about the world-famous activist's visit. While Theresa May was noticeably absent from the cross-party roundtable meeting with the teenager at the House of Commons.
It was a pleasure welcoming UK youth climate strikers and @GretaThunberg to parliament. Young people will be the most affected by climate change - seeing them take charge of their future is inspiring. Labour's committed to working with young people campaigning to save our planet. pic.twitter.com/mBtQZqPUuv— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) April 23, 2019
I welcome @GretaThunberg to Parliament & applaud her campaigning to raise awareness about the urgency to tackle climate change. I won't be able to hear her speak as I will be chairing the @CommonsSTC, appropriately on the technologies required for clean growth! #ClimateEmergency pic.twitter.com/4PMsinpG9m— Norman Lamb (@normanlamb) April 23, 2019
In her speech to MPs (available to read in full on the Guardian), Thunberg criticised politicians the world over for giving young people false optimism about the future, before singling out the UK. "You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us," she said. "We will not understand it until it’s too late. And yet we are the lucky ones. Those who will be affected the hardest are already suffering the consequences. But their voices are not heard."
She went on to condemn the UK for its role in bolstering the fossil fuel industry, despite its reputation as a world-leader in the fight against climate change. “The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels – for example the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports, as well as the planning permission for a brand new coal mine – is beyond absurd,” Thunberg proclaimed. "This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind."
Thunberg also condemned the UK's "mind-blowing historical carbon debt" and "its current, very creative, carbon accounting," from not including emissions from imported goods in headline figures, as the Guardian reported. "Since 1990 the UK has achieved a 37% reduction of its territorial CO2 emissions, according to the Global Carbon Project. And that does sound very impressive," Thunberg said, with all the confidence of a well-researched politician.
"But these numbers do not include emissions from aviation, shipping and those associated with imports and exports. If these numbers are included the reduction is around 10% since 1990 – or an average of 0.4% a year, according to Tyndall Manchester."
We have not taken to the streets for you to take selfies with us, and tell us that you really admire what we do.
Thunberg went on to blast politicians as self-serving – but not even that quelled her popularity amongst many MPs. “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before.”
Amusingly, she even made a dig at adults for not taking her global climate strike movement seriously, and for using young activists as social media fodder. "We have not taken to the streets for you to take selfies with us, and tell us that you really admire what we do.
"We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back," she concluded.
On Sunday, Thunberg addressed London's Extinction Rebellion protest in Marble Arch as it continues into its second week in London, praising the group's non-violent activism. On Tuesday morning, she called on politicians to pay attention to the science behind climate change. "Listen to the science, listen to the scientists. Invite them to talk," Thunberg told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday morning. "I am just speaking on behalf of them, I'm trying to say what they've been saying for decades."
When asked what she'd say to Donald Trump if give the chance, Thunberg said she wasn't optimistic that she'd have any impact over the US' environmental policy (in 2017, the US president pulled the country out of the 2015 Paris agreement on tackling climate change). "I can't really say anything to him that he hasn't heard before," Thunberg admitted. "Obviously he's not listening to the science and to what we have to say so I wouldn't be able to change his mind."