Around the world unprecedented floods continue to destroy homes and claim lives, wildfires rage at growing levels of intensity, and droughts are driving a massive hunger crisis pushing millions to the brink of starvation. We are reaching the point of no return. 

With the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow now just days away, the world is waiting in anticipation for answers to our climate uncertainties  — will our world leaders commit to change or will we continue to watch our planet suffer? 

In an op-ed published by The Guardian on Oct. 21, youth climate activist Greta Thunberg challenged COP26 leaders to step up and show up for the environment. In her piece, Thunberg asserts the dishonesty and hypocrisy of so-called “climate leaders” and shows how current emission reduction plans are failing in the long term goal of keeping the planet within the 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming limit set by the 2015 Paris agreement. 

A recent leak of documents ahead of COP26 paints a worrying picture for the upcoming talks, which run from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. The leak revealed lobbying efforts from countries including Australia, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, among others, to remove recommendations for emission reductions and climate financing for low-income nations from the UN report for climate mitigation. 

With key leaders opting out of attending the conference in-person and major countries continuing their plans to rely on coal and fossil fuels, the need for leadership in the fight against climate change is more critical than ever — and climate activists are not ready to give up.  

Here are six quotes from Thunberg’s op-ed that highlight the urgency behind COP26 as the most crucial moment for taking action in climate history. 

1. 'The denial of the climate and ecological crisis runs so deep that hardly anyone takes real notice anymore.'

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) “Code Red” report, published in August, predicts climate disaster should we choose to continue living the way we do and producing emissions at the same rate as we are. 

Although the report contains a dire message, it is far from the first warning we’ve had from scientists regarding global warming. In fact, experts have been calling for immediate action for over 30 years.  

“We refuse to acknowledge that we now have to choose between saving the planet or saving our unsustainable way of life. Because we want both. We demand both. But the undeniable truth is that we have left it too late for that," Thurnberg wrote. "And no matter how uncomfortable that reality may seem, this is exactly what our leaders have chosen for us with their decades of inaction.”

2. 'Science doesn’t lie. If we are to stay below the targets set in the 2015 Paris agreement — and thereby minimize the risks of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control — we need immediate, drastic, annual, emission reductions unlike anything the world has ever seen.'

The IPCC report states that in order to prevent the most devastating effects of climate change, the world must reach net zero emissions and greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

At COP26, world leaders have the chance to recommit to the Paris agreement and set their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which outline their country’s emissions plans and how they will reach the targets set in Paris in 2015. 

3. 'We are currently on track for at least a 2.7 C hotter world by the end of the century — and that’s only if countries meet all the pledges that they have made. Currently they are nowhere near doing that.'

An April report from the International Energy Agency found that global carbon emissions were on course to increase by 1.5 billion metric tons in 2021, making it the second largest rise in history. 

Thunberg criticized pandemic recovery spending, pointing out that only 2% of governments’ “build back better” financing went toward green energy — compared to the $5.9 trillion spent on fossil fuel subsidies in 2020. 

Using science-backed evidence, Thunberg called for systemic change, also highlighting that fossil fuel production is on track to exceed the limits set by the 1.5 C goal by double. 

“In short, we are totally failing to even reach targets that are completely insufficient in the first place,” she added.

4. 'The truth is there are no climate leaders. Not yet. At least not among high-income nations.'

Thunberg called for more transparency and honesty from wealthy countries claiming to be leaders in the fight against climate change. Using her own home country of Sweden as an example, the 18-year-old climate striker spoke on the misrepresentation of the country’s actual emissions in its climate targets. 

“A news investigation recently concluded that once you include all of Sweden’s actual emissions (territorial, biogenic, consumption of imported goods, burning of biomass, pension fund investments and so on), only one-third of the net total is accounted for in the country’s climate targets,” she wrote.

Thunberg also accused countries like the US, China, and the UK of hypocrisy, citing their declarations of leading the climate charge and “listening to science” while being among the top 10 largest emitters in history and still producing billions of barrels of fossil fuels. 

5. 'For the COP26 in Glasgow to be a success it will take many things. But above all it will take honesty, solidarity, and courage.'

Climate action goes beyond just emission reductions — we must also see drastic changes and financial support for climate adaptation, particularly for the poorest nations, as well as a “just transition” away from fossil fuels.

Thunberg acknowledges the physical possibility of keeping the global warming temperature within the 1.5 C goal but points out the changes that must be made to solve the entirety of the crisis. 

“But it’s naive to think that we could solve this crisis without confronting the roots of it,” she wrote.

Thunberg writes that our current emergency must be tackled through sustainability, social equality, and a respect for others’ land and resources.  

6. 'Hope is all around us.'

Thunberg reminds us that while there is a lot to despair over considering the increasingly destructive consequences of climate change, there is also still the possibility of taking action to prevent the worst-case scenarios. 

She states that in order to start a concerted effort to save the planet we just need one leader or wealthy nation to take those first steps of treating our emergency situation as the crisis it is, and take those vital actions to reduce emissions following science-based recommendations. 

She added: “The clock is ticking. Summits keep happening. Emissions keep growing. Who will that leader be?”

Join Global Citizen and call on world leaders to take action against climate change and increase their commitments at November’s COP26. Take action to defend the planet here.

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Defend the Planet

Greta Thunberg: 6 Powerful Quotes on the Urgency of COP26

By Kate Nakamura