The acclaimed Swedish teen climate activist, Greta Thunberg, slammed world leaders on Monday at the United Nations' Climate Action Summit in New York, condemning governments across the board for political apathy on the crisis.
"I shouldn't be standing here," Thunberg, 16, said in an emotional speech. "Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words."
The UN Summit came just days after millions of young people and supporters protested worldwide to put pressure on leaders for an immediate mobilization to combat climate change. After traveling to the U.S. on a solar-powered yacht in an effort to draw attention to her cause, Thunberg led the demonstration on Friday in New York.
"Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth," Thunberg, whose voice shook with emotion, said Monday. "How dare you!"
Greta Thunberg, Young Climate Activist, at the Opening of the Climate Action Summit 2019. / United Nations
The gathering of diplomats and heads of state was the latest meeting of signatories of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. UN Secretary-General António Guterres had called on world leaders to gather and present plans on combating the climate crisis, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.
"There is a cost to everything. But the biggest cost is doing nothing," Guterres said in his opening remarks Monday. "The biggest cost is subsidizing 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."
The summit also came almost exactly a year after the UN published a devastating report, which predicted catastrophic climate events in the coming decade due to climate change. Historic floods, droughts, and other disasters are inevitable, the report warned, unless major overhauls were made to the global economy in nearly every sector.
"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," Thunberg said.
Photo Credit: JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
President Trump, who has repeatedly rejected the science of climate change and withdrew the U.S. from the Paris pact in 2017, made an unexpected appearance at the conference. The Administration had said earlier that Trump was skipping the meeting; yet he appeared after Thunberg spoke and listened briefly as Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave remarks. Trump stayed for 14 minutes, according to White House pool reports.
As he left the assembly hall, Trump happened to pass Thunberg, who gave the U.S. president a sharp glare that went viral on social media.
Thunberg added in her address that nothing short of major structural reforms to the global economy would be sufficient to stave off the climate crisis. She also derided policy makers downplaying the issue or calling for incremental change, saying they "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," Thunberg added. "And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you."
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.