Greta Thunberg: ‘Everyone and everything needs to change’

“It’s okay if you refuse to listen to me… but you cannot ignore the scientists, or the science, or the millions of children who are school striking for the right to a future.” Climate activist Greta Thunberg implores politicians at the European Parliament to take swift action on climate change.

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg

Anders Hellberg / Wikimedia Commons

Kate Dickinson

In a speech at the European Parliament today (16 April), climate activist Greta Thunberg implored politicians to listen to the millions of school strikers and take a stand against climate change.

The 16-year old Swedish activist has driven the environmental protest movement to new heights. Thunberg first began her ‘Fridays for Future’ campaign in 2018, when she skipped school to sit outside the Swedish Parliament building in protest at the lack of political action on climate change. Since then, Thunberg has gone on ‘school strike’ every Friday – and her small protest has transformed into a global movement.

Students across the world have taken part in similar protests, and Friday 15 March saw the first coordinated, global day of action, with campaign network claiming that over 1.4 million young people took part. These strikes and protests continue, and Thunberg has used her growing fame to speak to policy makers and business leaders – notably at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, where she castigated attendees directly for their inaction.

Speaking in Brussels today at a meeting of the European Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), Thunberg reiterated her message from Davos, saying, “I want you to panic. I want you to act as if the house is on fire.”

She continued: “A great number of politicians have told me that panic never leads to anything good, and I agree. To panic unless you have to is a terrible idea. But when your house is on fire and you want to keep your house from burning to the ground that does require some level of panic.

“Around the year 2030, 10 years, 259 days and 10 hours from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it… That is, unless in that time permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50 per cent… These projections are backed up by scientific facts, concluded by all nations, backed up by the IPCC [the International Panel on Climate Change].”

Greta Thunberg speaking at European Parliament

Thunberg speaking to a packed room of European politicians

Thunberg appeared to become emotional as she listed the terrible devastation that the world is already experiencing, including the mass extinction of wildlife, with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day, the erosion of fertile soils, deforestation, air pollution and acidification of our oceans. “These are all disastrous trends being accelerated by a way of life that we here in our financially fortunate part of the world see as our right to simply carry on,” she said.

“If our house was falling apart, our leaders wouldn’t go on like they do today. You wouldn’t fly around the world in business class, chatting about how the market will solve everything… You wouldn’t talk about buying and building your way out of a crisis that has been created by buying and building things.

“You wouldn't hold three emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate.” (A sentence that was met with a thunderous round of applause.)

But, as she concluded, “the house is falling apart, and we are rapidly running out of time. Everyone and everything needs to change, so why waste precious time arguing about what and who needs to change first?”

Looking ahead to the upcoming European elections at the end of May, Thunberg noted that she and many of her fellow student strikers would not be able to vote; nor could they realistically shape the decisions of business or media. Therefore, she urged the room, “You need to listen to us, we who cannot vote. You need to vote for us, your children and your grandchildren… In this election you vote for the future living conditions for humankind.”

She finished by saying: “It’s okay if you refuse to listen to me… but you cannot ignore the scientists, or the science, or the millions of children who are school striking for the right to a future. I beg you, please do not fail on this.”

"You cannot ignore the millions of children who are school striking for the right to a future."

After her speech, members of the committee thanked her, with Bas Eickhout, MEP for the Dutch Green Party GroenLinks, saying: “We know that the upcoming elections will be about climate change. This is partly because of your great work and the striking students and the Fridays for Future.

“When we go to vote in July on the new President of the European Commission, I hope that everyone will remember this day when we were applauding Greta Thunberg for her speech… We have to look at the programme of the new European Commission and see whether they want to really change policies. Policies to phase out coal, policies to put a real price on carbon, policies to make aviation really pay, policies to make sure that the European budget doesn’t pay one cent to fossil fuels”.

Eickhout also called on the current Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete, to pledge to raise the EU 2030 target for emissions reduction (currently the target is to cut emissions by 40 per cent compared to 1990 levels). He said: “Only then will this meeting have been successful, because then we really put words into action.”

To coordinate with Thunberg’s speech, the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) group in the European Parliament has launched its 10 priority measures to protect the climate. Read our article on the Green/EFA measures.