Greta Thunberg’s Message at Davos Forum: ‘Our House Is Still on Fire’

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Swedish clima­te activ­ist Greta Thunb­erg, 16, leaves an auditorium after watching President Donald Trump deliver opening remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Thunberg on Tuesday punched a hole in the promises emerging from the forum of the global political and business elite and offered instead an ultimatum: Stop investing in fossil fuels immediately, or explain to your children why you did not protect them from the "climate chaos" you created. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)

Somini Sengupta

c.2020 The New York Times Company

 

DAVOS, Switzerland — Greta Thunberg on Tuesday punched a hole in the promises emerging from a forum of the global political and business elite and offered instead an ultimatum: Stop investing in fossil fuels immediately, or explain to your children why you did not protect them from the “climate chaos” you created.

“I wonder, what will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing the climate chaos you knowingly brought upon them?” Thunberg, 17, said at the annual gathering of the world’s rich and powerful in Davos, a village on the icy reaches of the Swiss Alps.

Her remarks opened a panel discussion hosted by The New York Times and the World Economic Forum.

“Our house is still on fire,” she added, reprising her most famous line from an address last year at the forum. “Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour.”

Her remarks came at a time when climate change and environmental sustainability rose to the top of the talking points of many of the executives and government leaders assembled at Davos.

Thunberg, a climate activist known for speaking bluntly to power, rebuked the crowd for promises that she said would do too little: reducing planet-warming gases to net zero by 2050, offsetting emissions by planting 1 trillion trees, transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

“Let’s be clear. We don’t need a ‘low carbon economy.’ We don’t need to ‘lower emissions,’” she said. “Our emissions have to stop.”

Only that, she said, would enable the world to keep temperatures from rising past 1.5 degrees from preindustrial levels, which scientists say is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change. She and a group of young climate activists have called on private investors and governments to immediately halt exploration for fossil fuels, to stop funding their production, to end taxpayer subsidies for the industry and to fully divest their existing stakes in the sector.

Scientists have said emissions must be reduced by half in the next decade to reach the 1.5-degree target. The opposite is happening. Global emissions continued to rise, hitting a record high in 2019, according to research published in December.

Her address began barely an hour after President Donald Trump’s speech at the forum, which barely mentioned climate change, except to describe climate activists as “heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers.” Thunberg did not address him directly, except to remind the audience that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement by the end of this year.

Thunberg took pains to distance herself from politics. “This is not about right or left. We couldn’t care less about your party politics,” she said. “From a sustainability perspective, the right, the left as well as the center have all failed. No political ideology or economic structure has been able to tackle the climate and environmental emergency.”