At age 16, climate activist Greta Thunberg (pronounced tun-bury), has just been named Time’s person of the year for 2019. The announcement of Time’s selection came just after Thunberg gave a brief, yet extraordinarily powerful speech at the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP25, in Madrid, during which she lambasted political and corporate leaders for their inaction on climate change, and encouraged “the people” to realize their own power in shaping a sustainable future. Here are some of the highlights from her speech, which showcase, in part, why Thunberg became the youngest person in history to earn Time’s person of the year honor.
— Earther (@EARTH3R) December 11, 2019
The Climate Science
As always, Thunberg focused her speech on the science outlining the effects of climate change, and why those effects substitute an immediate global danger that must be dealt with now. Thunberg focused specifically on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its landmark Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C published in 2018, saying that we have a “rapidly declining carbon budget” and that “we no longer have time to leave out the science.”
That 2018 IPCC report, which has the full title of “Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty,” highlights the danger of allowing Earth’s global mean temperature to rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) relative to pre-industrial levels. Summed up, the report claims that if we allow the mean global temperature to rise by 2.0°C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), we will cause catastrophic climate damage that will likely be irreversible.
Listen to the science. Then take action. We have less than 8.5 years of carbon budget remaining at current emission rates. pic.twitter.com/BwiVY06Dro
— Daniel Katzenberger, P.E. (@NRG_Wonk) December 11, 2019
To that end, Thunberg focused in on how much carbon we have left to pull out of the ground and emit into the atmosphere before we reach the aforementioned temperature tipping point. Thunberg noted that, according to the IPCC report, humanity had 420 gigatons of CO2 left in its carbon budget as of January, 2018, and that we emit about 42 gigatons per year. This would mean that—after taking into account the amount of CO2 we’ve “spent” during 2018 and 2019—we have only 8 years left before reaching that catastrophic 2.0°C temperature increase.
The Culprits of Climate Change
In terms of placing fault, Thunberg pointed to mega-corporations, governments, and the wealthiest 10% of the global population as the biggest culprits of spending our shared carbon budget.
Thunberg said that since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2016, global banks have invested $1.9 trillion in fossil fuels. She also noted that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that comes from a report published by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).
Discussing the #EmissionsGap report 2019 at #COP25. Among the main findings: Subsides to fossil fuels still amount to around 0.5 to 1 trillion $ each year globally. That’s the money we need to finance the energy transition. We need to reorient this money! #ClimateEmergency pic.twitter.com/RIePQdWAN5
— Sébastien Soleille (@sebsoleille) December 10, 2019
Those handful of mega-corporations, are, of course, run in large part by the richest 10% of the world’s population, which Thunberg said produce half of the world’s carbon emissions. This figure comes from a 2015 Oxfam report, titled “Extreme Carbon Inequality,” which also found that the world’s poorest 3.5 billion people only produce 10% of the world’s total carbon emissions. On top of that, Thunberg noted that the G20 countries, those that are responsible for 85% of the world’s economy, are responsible for 80% of total carbon emissions—a figure that comes from a 2019 Emissions Gap Report.
In regards to the actions taken by these wealthy countries and corporations to curb climate change, Thunberg said, in essence, that they have all been toothless. Recent pledges from “a handful of rich countries” to cut their carbon emissions “by so and so many percent by this or that date,” isn’t leading, but rather misleading, Thunberg said, “because they don’t include aviation, shipping, and imported and exported goods….” Thunberg added that “zero [emissions] by 2050 means nothing if high emissions continues for even a few years,” and that “the real danger is when politicians and CEOs [make] it look like real action is happening, when, in fact, almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR.”
The People and the Future
Finally, Thunberg put the onus for mobilizing a movement to ignite corporate and government action on climate change on “the people” of the world. “It is public opinion that runs the free world,” Thunberg said, adding that “without pressure from the people, our leaders can get away with basically not doing anything, which is where we are now.”
Thunberg pointed out that the real problem is that many people are unaware of just how bad climate change has become, and therefore are unable to influence world leaders to act. But she added that people are starting to become more and more aware, and are now ready for change. She highlighted the power of democracy, which “is happening all the time,” as the instrument that will allow the people to force those in power to make the necessary changes to halt climate change.
“Well I am telling you there is hope. I have seen it.
But it does not come from governments or corporations.
It comes from the people.”
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) December 11, 2019
And even though Thunberg generally painted a grim picture of what’s happening right now—a picture that includes rapidly melting glaciers, massive coral reef destruction, and enormous wildfires, among many other problems—she ended on an uplifting note. “I am telling you there is hope,” Thunberg said. “I have seen it. But it does not come from governments or corporations. It comes from the people. The people who have been unaware, but are now starting to wake up.”
What do you think of Thunberg’s COP25 speech? Do her words make you far more hopeful for the future, or are you still skeptical of the likelihood that corporations and governments will bow to the will of the people? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Feature Image: Global News