DAVOS: Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg slammed business and political leaders attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Thursday, saying it was “absurd” to listen to them while they fuelled “the destruction of the planet”.
Two days after police briefly detained her at a protest against a coal mine in Germany, Thunberg and other young campaigners took part in a debate on the sidelines of the summit of global investors, CEOs and political leaders in the Swiss Alps.
“We are right now in Davos where (there are) basically the people who are mostly fuelling the destruction of the planet,” the 20-year-old said, explaining that the world should not rely on them “for solving our problems”.
She added that it was “absurd … we seem to be listening to them rather than the people who are actually affected by the climate crisis”.
“Without massive public pressure from the outside, these people are going to go as far as they possibly can… They will continue to throw people under the bus for their own gain,” she said.
The Swede spoke on the sidelines of the WEF with fellow activists Helena Gualinga of Ecuador, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda and Luisa Neubauer of Germany at a CNBC panel that included International Energy Agency (IEA) head Fatih Birol.
The Swede made a splash when she attended the forum as a teenager in January 2020, warning that “our house is still on fire” and complaining that her demands had been “completely ignored”.
Then US president Donald Trump used his speech at the same forum to bash “the perennial prophets of doom” as Thunberg looked on stony-faced from the audience.
This week, she and Gualinga, Nakate and Neubauer launched an online petition demanding that energy firms stop any new oil, gas or coal extraction projects — or face possible legal action.
More than 900,000 people had signed the petition by Thursday.
“We are taking a very dangerous path. We are already seeing how people are suffering on the ground,” Gualinga said.
“It’s completely insane that we are allowing this and we have people here in Davos that are enabling that, through government, through investing in fossil fuel and at some point there needs to be a stop. This is criminal behaviour,” she said.
Big Oil’s ‘big lie’
Birol, as head of a multilateral energy agency that advises mostly Western governments, said that his presence alongside activists was “a very important signal that I want to give the world”.
“We have to see that climate change needs to get more attention. Unfortunately, the attention to climate change is sliding down,” he said.
The energy sector had to be transformed or “we have no chance whatsoever to reach our climate targets”.
The IEA said in a report in October that the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was causing changes that could hasten the transition to a “more sustainable and secure energy system”.
Thunberg was among a group of people hauled away by police on Tuesday during a protest near the German village of Luetzerath, which is being razed to make way for a coal mine expansion. They were not formally arrested.
Her actions were praised in Davos by former US vice president Al Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change.
“I agree with her efforts to stop that coal mine,” Gore told a panel discussion on global warming, adding that young people around the world despaired of efforts by leaders to tackle the climate crisis.
“We are not winning” the fight against global warming, he said.
Climate change is a major topic at the WEF, where businesses and governments have come under pressure to do more to ensure that the world meets the increasingly elusive goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In a speech on Wednesday, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres drew a parallel between the actions of oil companies and those of tobacco firms, which were eventually hit by costly lawsuits over the harmful effects of cigarettes.
Guterres pointed to a study published in the journal Science last week that said ExxonMobil had dismissed the findings of its own scientists, who had accurately predicted global warming due to fossil fuels as far back as the late 1970s.
“Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie,” he said. “And like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held to account.”