In Depth

Why everyone’s talking about Greta Thunberg

Climate change activist calls for end to ‘hate and threats’ in speech that divides French parliament

Anyone who has followed the climate change debate has heard of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage activist who has become the public face of a youth-led global protest movement demanding action by politicians.

The 16-year-old is back in the spotlight this week, after urging politicians to “unite behind the science” on global warming, in a controversial speech at the French Parliament, reports the BBC.

Thunberg, whose speech was boycotted by some right-wing lawmakers, also addressed critics who derided her as a “prophetess in short trousers”.

“And just for quoting or acting on these numbers, these scientific facts, we receive unimaginable amounts of hate and threats,” she said.

What happened?

Thunberg’s address to the National Assembly in Paris is the latest a series of speeches in cities worldwide by the activist,  who in August 2018 began staging school strikes that have inspired similar walkouts by children across the globe.

In March, the Stockholm-based teen led one of the biggest days of global climate action ever, with 1.4 million people taking part, according to The Guardian.

In her speech to the French parliament, on Tuesday, Thunberg said that climate change sceptics have painted young protesters as “the bad guys” for asking politicians to do the “uncomfortable things”, reports France 24.

“And just for quoting or acting on these numbers, these scientific facts, we receive unimaginable amounts of hate and threats,” she said. “We are being mocked and lied about by members of parliament and journalists.”

Thunberg was invited to the National Assembly by 162 ministers from a cross-party group concerned about climate change - a move that sparked anger among some conservative lawmakers, who refused to attend.

In a reference to the controversy, the young activist added: “Some have chosen not to listen to us and that is fine, we are after all just children, you don’t have to listen to us. But you have to listen to the scientists, that is all we ask.” 

What was the response?

Lawmakers from parties including the conservative Republican party and the far-right National Rally announced prior to Thunberg’s speech that they had no intention of turning up.

One called her the “Justin Bieber of ecology”, while right-wing MP Julien Aubert said Thunberg - who has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize - should win a “Nobel Prize for Fear”.  

National Rally MEP Jordan Bardella told France 2 television that Thunberg’s efforts are a “dictatorship of perpetual emotion”.

However, many members of other parties, “such as the Greens and French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist En Marche, were more supportive of her appearance”, says the BBC.

Independent MP Matthieu Orphelin warned that “those who are turning a deaf ear to the warnings of youth are making a mistake”.

What’s next?

Thunberg has no intention of scaling back her global campaign. “We will never stop,” she told a rally in Berlin last week. “We need to make sure that people save the world and save humankind.”

The teenager has inspired millions of students in a total of more than 100 countries to skip school on Fridays in recent months, to protest in the streets against governments’ perceived inaction on climate change, says Deutsche Welle

But she warns that their fight to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is likely to rage on for years. “I never give up and I hope that you will not either because this is a question of life or death,” Thunberg told thousands of fellow activists during her speech in the German capital.

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