At just 15 years old, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg started an international youth movement against climate change by staging a "School Strike for Climate". Her action has since inspired students from around the world to strike in order to gain attention from world leaders, leading tens of thousands of students from across the globe to join her #FridaysforFuture demonstrations.
Her campaign is based on criticism that action against climate change is not strong enough. That world leaders are paying lip-service to the issue and not making the major changes required to keep the world from warming to the extent that it would lead to major loss of life.
Carbon emissions climbed to a record high last year, despite a warning from the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that there is little more than a decade left to act to slash emissions and stabilise the climate. Yet, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere between 2015 and 2019 had grown by 20% compared with the previous five years.
As a schoolgirl in Sweden, Greta wanted to take a stand to highlight the scientific facts that she felt were not being taken seriously. Beginning with missing school to protest in front of the Swedish Parliament, the media caught on and since, she has become a household name around the world.
She was invited to speak at the U.N. Climate Talks in Poland December and since then she and a team sailed a solar-powered yacht to the US to give a series of speeches in an attempt to get governments to sit up and listen. Upon arrival in the US, Greta spoke in Congress where she set out the importance of her mission and why global leaders should listen saying; "Our house is on fire. "We will not just stand aside and watch."
The following day, millions of people around the world held a Global Climate Strike in what is likely to be the biggest ever demonstration over global warming. She called on adults to join them and as a result, trade unions representing hundreds of millions of people around the world mobilised in support, employees left their workplaces, doctors and nurses marched and workers at firms like Amazon, Google and Facebook walked out to join the climate strikes.
The protests began in Pacific island nations like Kiribati, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu – whose very existence is threatened by rising sea levels. In Australia 350,000 people joined protests across the country, with some local authorities encouraging school children and workers to take part. Throughout the demonstrations got underway in cities across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas.
In Ghana, students marched in the capital Accra saying climate change has sped up coastal erosion, while in Thailand and India protestors staged "die-ins", falling to the ground and feigning death to demand greater government action. In Germany, protests took place in 500 towns and cities as the country's coalition government announced a EUR 54bn ($60bn) package aimed at cutting greenhouse gases, while in the UK, hundreds of thousands are believed to have taken part in cities across all four countries.
Speaking at a rally during the protests Greta Thunberg told thousands of school strikers in Manhattan: “We are not just some young people skipping school, we are a wave of change. Together, we are unstoppable.” On 23 September, the following day, she spoke at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. In an emotional speech, she spoke of the “betrayal” of young people through the inertia of governments over the climate crisis in an attempt to invoked greater commitments to address emissions.
Climate change affects every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives, costing people, communities and countries significantly. Research shows that weather patterns are changing, sea levels are rising, weather events are becoming more extreme and greenhouse gas emissions are now at their highest levels in history. Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is likely to surpass 3 degrees centigrade this century and the poorest and most vulnerable people are being affected the most.
"We should listen to the loud cry coming from the schoolchildren," said Professor Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, and professor of meteorology at the University of Reading. "There is an emergency - one for action in both rapidly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions towards zero and adapting to the inevitable changes in climate," he said.
As one of the most critical Sustainable Development Goals, set out by the UN; “Climate change, is a global challenge that does not respect national borders. It is an issue that requires solutions that need to be coordinated at the international level to help developing countries move toward a low-carbon economy.”
Although an unlikely figure to ignite true action in the fight against climate change, Greta has inspired a movement that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. The world’s youth are angry and determined that their leaders should take decisive action in order to protect their future and it seems they will not stop until they do.
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