Two years on from Greta Thunberg’s first solo school strike for the climate, she says the world has wasted the time by failing to take the necessary action on the crisis.
Thunberg’s strike inspired a global movement, and on Thursday she and other leading school strikers will meet Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the European council. They will demand a halt to all fossil fuel investments and subsidies and the establishment of annual, binding carbon budgets based on the best science.
“Looking back [over two years], a lot has happened. Many millions have taken to the streets … and on 28 November 2019, the European parliament declared a climate and environmental emergency,” Thunberg said in an article for the Guardian with fellow strikers Luisa Neubauer, Anuna de Wever and Adelaide Charlier.
“But over these last two years, the world has also emitted over 80bn tonnes of CO2. We have seen continuous natural disasters taking place across the globe. Many lives and livelihoods have been lost, and this is only the very beginning.”
They said leaders were speaking of an “existential crisis”, yet “when it comes to action, we are still in a state of denial. The gap between what we need to do and what’s actually being done is widening by the minute. Effectively, we have lost another two crucial years to political inaction.”
Thunberg and her colleagues said fighting the climate emergency must involve rich nations stopping some of their polluting activities. “However, it’s a fact which most people refuse to accept. Just the thought of being in a crisis that we cannot buy, build or invest our way out of seems to create some kind of collective mental short-circuit. This mix of ignorance, denial and unawareness is the very heart of the problem,” they said.
The trillions of dollars being spent by governments in response to the coronavirus pandemic are seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put the world on course to halt global heating, with economists, scientists and health experts all saying the benefits would outweigh the costs.
However, G20 governments’ rescue packages are giving significantly more support to fossil fuels than to low-carbon energy. Germany’s recovery plan includes EUR40bn for climate measures such as electric vehicles, public transport and energy efficiency, and has been praised by green groups. But elsewhere, too little is being done, Thunberg and colleagues said.
“Even a child can see that the policies of today are incompatible with the current best available science,” they said.
Scientists calculate that global carbon emissions must be cut by half by the end of this decade if humanity is to have a reasonable chance of keeping temperature rises to below 1.5C, the limit set in the Paris climate deal. Drops in emissions during coronavirus lockdowns are only a small blip in a long-term rising trend and will have a “negligible” effect on the climate crisis, researchers say.
“We understand the world is complicated and that what we are asking for may not be easy or seem unrealistic,” said the school strikers. “But it is much more unrealistic to believe that our societies would be able to survive the global heating we’re heading for. We are inevitably going to have to fundamentally change, one way or another. The question is: will the changes be on our terms, or on nature’s terms?”