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Environment

Greta Thunberg Warns World Leaders in UN Speech: 'We Will Never Forgive You'

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Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg fought back tears as she ripped into world leaders gathered at the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday for their failure to meaningfully address climate change.

“You are failing us,” Thunberg said. “But young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you, and if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.

“We will not let you get away with this," she added. "Right here, right now, is where we draw the line. The world is waking up, and change is coming whether you like it or not.”

Thunberg said that the window to achieve the goals of the Paris climate agreement is rapidly shrinking. The UN’s latest report on global emissions said that the world has around 8.5 years to bring carbon emissions to zero; otherwise, global temperatures will rise beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels mark deemed tolerable by scientists. 

Ending global emissions before 2030 would require a complete transformation of modern society. All fossil fuels projects — current and projected — would have to be cancelled, power plants releasing emissions would have to shuddered, renewable energy capacity would have to be exponentially increased, transportation systems would have to be retrofitted to rely upon renewable energy, and much more would have to be done. 

These endeavors, while exceedingly ambitious, are within the realm of possibility — they just require political systems to be reoriented toward sustainability. Thunberg said that the current slate of financial commitments and technological solutions offered by world leaders to combat climate change are abjectly inadequate.

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“There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with the figures here today because these numbers are too uncomfortable,” she said. “And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.”

Thunberg frequently describes world leaders as immature for their inability to accurately describe the crisis of climate change, posturing as if it isn’t urgent, and failing to imagine effective solutions. 

As a result, the activist has inspired a global movement of young people to force political change by making climate action the only viable pathway forward. The toll this has taken on her life, however, has not escaped her. 

"This is all wrong," Thunberg told the UN. "I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!"

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words," she said. "And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"

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On Sept. 20, Thunberg led a global protest of more than 4 million people in at least 165 countries. The global event was an outgrowth of her weekly Fridays for Future school strikes that began in Sweden and have since spread to other countries.