The EU should double its climate change reduction targets to do its fair share in keeping the planet below a dangerous level of global warming, the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has told political and business leaders in Brussels.

Flanked by students from the Belgian and German school strike movements, the Swedish teenager said it was not enough to hope that young people were going to save the world.

“There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge,” she said, citing the fall in greenhouse gas emissions that was needed by 2020.

The EU wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.

Greta Thunberg with Belgian students in Brussels
Greta Thunberg with Belgian students in Brussels on Thursday. Photograph: Stéphanie Lecocq/EPA

“Some people say that is good, that is ambitious; but this new target is still not enough to keep global warming below 1.5C,” Thunberg said, referring to what scientists regard as the preferable upper limit if the planet is to avoid extreme droughts, floods and the bleaching of corals.

“This target is not sufficient to protect the future for children growing up today. If the EU is to make its fair contribution to stay within the carbon budget for the 2C limit then it needs a minimum of 80% reduction by 2030, and that includes aviation and shipping.”

Thunberg, whose lone school strike last September became the catalyst for a global movement, was applauded by the audience of political, business and civil society leaders, despite her uncompromising message that the older generation was failing those of the future.

She also responded to criticism from political leaders, who included Theresa May, over skipping lessons. “If you still say that we are wasting valuable lesson time, then let me remind you that our political leaders have wasted decades through denial and inaction.”

Greta Thunberg shakes Jean-Claude Juncker’s hand
Greta Thunberg shakes Jean-Claude Juncker’s hand at the Civil Society for rEUnaissance event in Brussels. Photograph: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, followed her address with a sprawling speech across a variety of green topics including EU climate policy, his love of Europe’s varied landscapes and opposition to the harmonisation of toilet flushes. Juncker said he had rejected his civil servants’ proposal for an energy-saving measure on toilets because the EU needed to focus on economic problems and external threats.

Speaking to journalists after the event, Thunberg said it was sad Juncker had not said much about the climate crisis, while revealing her own frustration about the reaction to the school strike movement.

'Never too small to make a difference'

In August 2018 Thunberg began a solo climate protest by striking from school in Sweden when aged 15. She has since been joined by tens of thousands of school and university students in Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United States, Japan and more than a dozen other countries.

'Irresponsible children'

Speaking at the United Nations climate conference in December 2018, she berated world leaders for behaving like irresponsible children. And in January 2019 she rounded on the global business elite in Davos: “Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”


Veteran climate campaigners are astonished by what has been achieved in such a short time. Thunberg has described the rapid spread of school strikes for climate around the world as amazing. “It proves you are never too small to make a difference,” she said. Her protests were inspired by US students who staged walk-outs to demand better gun controls in the wake of multiple school shootings.


Her mother, Malena Ernman, has given up her international career as an opera singer because of the climate effects of aviation. Her father is actor Svante Thunber. Greta has Asperger’s syndrome, which in the past has affected her health, he says. She sees her condition not as a disability but as a gift which has helped open her eyes to the climate crisis.

“When people talk about the climate strikes … they talk about almost anything except for the climate crisis: they talk about whether we are promoting truancy, or whether we are puppets, or it’s great that the young people are taking action. They don’t want to talk about the climate crisis … they just want to change the subject.”

She said she planned to continue her strike every Friday until Sweden meets its Paris climate targets.


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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