Teenager who sparked global youth movement hits out at airport expansion and support for fossil fuels
— The UK government’s active support for fossil fuels and airport expansion is “beyond absurd”, Greta Thunberg has told MPs.
The 16-year-old Swedish student, who sparked a global youth-based movement when she began a “climate strike” outside Sweden’s parliament last year, gave a typically blunt speech. She told MPs: “This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.”
Thunberg, who had earlier met the heads of several of the UK’s political parties, also said today’s generation of leaders around the world had not acted fast enough to halt climate change. “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to,” she said. “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before.”
Some consider the UK to be a leader in the fight against global warming, but Thunberg was fierce in her criticism: “The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels, like for example the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports, as well as the planning permission for a brand new coal mine, is beyond absurd.”
She said the UK had a “mind-blowing historical carbon debt”, referring to the nation’s cumulative emissions since the industrial revolution. The UK government also uses “very creative carbon accounting”, she said, by not including the emissions from imported goods in headline figures. The former UN chief Ban Ki-Moon also recently criticised the UK government’s funding of fossil fuel projects in other countries.
Thunberg said there was still just about time to stop climate change: “I’m sure that the moment we start behaving as if we were in an emergency, we can avoid climate and ecological catastrophe. Humans are very adaptable. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long.”
She said the deciding factor for every new economic development must be the level of carbon emissions it will produce. “Every time we make a decision we should ask ourselves; how will this decision affect that [emissions] curve?”
About 1.6 million students are estimated to have skipped school to protest against climate inaction, prompting some criticism over lost education. Thunberg said: “I assure you we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future. Is that really too much to ask?”
Earlier on Tuesday, Jeremy Corbyn and several other Westminster party leaders met Thunberg at parliament, with a symbolic place left at the table for the absent Theresa May.
Thunberg, who came to London to speak at the Extinction Rebellion environmental protests, and was due to address activists at Parliament Square later on Tuesday, met Corbyn, the Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, the Green MP Caroline Lucas and the Westminster leaders of the SNP and Plaid Cymru, Ian Blackford and Liz Saville Roberts.
May was chairing cabinet on Tuesday morning. Her spokesman said he did not have information about whether the prime minister had been invited to see Thunberg.
Organisers of the event said May had been invited, but there had been no response. A place at the table was left empty, with the prime minister’s name.
Thunberg told the MPs: “We just want people to listen to the science.” Corbyn told her: “Well done for what you have done.”
Lucas, the former Green leader who is the party’s sole MP, told the activist: “I think all of us are really committed to trying to ensure that there’s an ongoing way to really make sure that all of our policies and all of our work in parliament is properly scrutinised by young people with a perspective on climate in particular.
“We want young people’s voices to be heard in parliament. This is such an important moment, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say we have just 11 years left to get off the collision course we are on for climate catastrophe.
“That sense of urgency is here as never before, at a time when there have been protests on the streets not just of London but around the country and all the different nations of the UK. More than ever, politicians have our ears open to your message.”
While in parliament Thunberg also met the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, as well as the former Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Lib Dem MP Layla Moran.
Outside on Parliament Square, more demonstrators supporting the Extinction Rebellion group were massing, with police warning they risked arrest if they did not remain in a certain area and the protest continued after midnight.
More than 1,000 people have been arrested amid sit-in protests in London over the past week, which blocked Parliament Square, Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge. Activists are still at Marble Arch. More than 10,000 police were deployed to contain and then break up the protests.
by Damian Carrington, Peter Walker | The Guardian