Greta Thunberg has slammed the UK’s record on lowering its carbon emissions, saying claims that the country is a climate leader are a “lie.” 

The 18-year-old climate activist, who first decided to strike from school to protest the lack of urgency at tackling the climate crisis exactly three years ago today, said the UK is not accounting for all of its emissions.

Thunberg was speaking at the press conference at the launch of a new report from UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), timed to mark the anniversary of the start of the school strike movement which has seen children around the world strike from school every Friday. 

The UNICEF study finds that a billion of the world’s children are at “extreme risk” from the impacts of climate change.

“There is a lie that the UK is a climate leader and that they have reduced their CO2 emissions by something like more than 40% since 1990,” Thunberg said when asked about what the UK needed to do.  “If you don't include all emissions then the statistics are going to look much nicer.”

“If you include things like aviation, shipping, outsourcing and imports and the burning of biomass, it doesn’t really look that good – they are very good at creative carbon accounting,” she added.

She is referring to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claim that the UK has cut its carbon emissions by 42% since 1990, which he said in February.

However, his statement was challenged by fact-checkers at the independent non-profit Full Fact, who found that it was more accurate to say Britain cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 39% between 1990 and 2018 and notes that the figure does not include international aviation and shipping emissions.

Data from the Committee on Climate Change,  found that aviation contributed 7% to the UK’s overall greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, and emissions from aviation have increased 88% since 1990. The Committee has urged the government to include these international transport emissions in the carbon budget.

The need for urgent action on global emissions is underlined in UNICEF’s report, titled ‘The Climate Crisis Is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children’s Climate Risk Index’ which is described as the “first comprehensive analysis of climate risk from a child’s perspective.”

It maps areas of the world that are facing threats from extreme weather and environmental shocks like drought, and assesses those threats against existing vulnerabilities in those areas — such as access to services like education, health care, and water and sanitation.

While nearly all children are at risk from at least one climate impact – such as heat waves, floods, drought, air pollution, or cyclones — children in 33 countries will face three or four serious climate impacts at once, UNICEF’s research finds.

Those countries house one billion, almost half the world’s 2.2 billion children, and include India, Nigeria and the Philippines, and much of sub-Saharan Africa.

“For the first time, we have a complete picture of where and how children are vulnerable to climate change, and that picture is almost unimaginably dire,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director.

“Climate and environmental shocks are undermining the complete spectrum of children’s rights, from access to clean air, food and safe water; to education, housing, freedom from exploitation, and even their right to survive. Virtually no child’s life will be unaffected,” she continued.

Referring to the climate school strike movement, Fridays for Future, spearheaded by Thunberg and taken up by children and young people all over the world, Ford added: “For three years, children have raised their voices around the world to demand action. UNICEF supports their calls for change with an unarguable message – the climate crisis is a child’s rights crisis.”

Thunberg is urging the UK government to step and do more to reach net zero, highlighting that children’s future’s depend on it. “We want them to stop talking and start acting,” she said. “We cannot stress enough how big a responsibility the UK government has now.” 


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Defend the Planet

Greta Thunberg Slams UK’s Climate Progress as Report Finds 1 Billion Children Face “Extreme Risk”

By Helen Lock