Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg addresses supporters and journalists in Lisbon, Portugal on December 3 2019. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/HORACIO VILLALOBOS
Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg addresses supporters and journalists in Lisbon, Portugal on December 3 2019. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/HORACIO VILLALOBOS

Lisbon/Madrid — Teen activist Greta Thunberg reached Europe on Tuesday after a 21-day catamaran dash across the Atlantic for a UN summit where she will invoke the fury of global youth at politicians’ foot-dragging over climate change.

“People are underestimating the force of angry children,” the Swede told a crowd of reporters and supporters as she disembarked from a white catamaran, La Vagabonde, in Portugal. “They’re angry and frustrated.”

The prospect of another fiery intervention by the 16-year-old, whose ability to stare down politicians has inspired a global protest movement, electrified younger delegates at the international UN climate summit, COP25, underway in neighbouring Spain.

Since staging a solitary protest outside the Swedish parliament more than a year ago, Thunberg has channeled the anger felt by millions of teenagers saddled with the prospect of an escalating climate crisis their parents failed to avert.

In September, she carried her message to a one-day climate summit at the UN in New York, furiously telling leaders “you have stolen my dreams”, before sailing back to Europe for the latest round of talks.

Thunberg is due to spend the rest of Tuesday meeting activists in Portugal before departing for Madrid, where the negotiations are being held in a series of hangar-like halls.

Carolina Schmidt, environment minister of Chile, which is chairing the negotiations, said she hoped Thunberg’s presence galvanises more ambitious commitments by governments at talks aimed at bolstering the 2015 Paris Agreement to avert catastrophic temperature increases.

“We need that tremendous force to increase climate action,” Schmidt told Reuters television. “We need Greta in here with all that force.”

Increasingly erratic weather patterns, from wildfires in Australia and California to floods in Europe, have added to the sense of urgency around the two-week summit in Spain.

Hottest decade on record

Underscoring the pace of change, the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) launched a report at the talks that found the past decade was almost certain to have been the hottest on record.

In a stark reminder that burning fossil fuels has fundamentally changed the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, the report said the concentration of carbon dioxide hit a record 407.8 parts per million in 2018 and rose again in 2019, hovering at the highest levels seen in millions of years.

Opening the climate summit on Monday, UN secretary-general António Guterres had warned that 400 parts per million had once been considered an “unthinkable” tipping point.

Despite the grim statistics, young delegates said they were inspired by Thunberg’s determination to minimise her own carbon footprint by twice braving the Atlantic instead of flying: which they saw as a symbol of resourcefulness and defiance.

“She is making a statement that you don’t always have to take the easy way,” said Lander Wanters, 20, a Belgian climate activist. “We have to act now to do something for the climate.”

Delegates at the talks aim to finalise groundwork to support the Paris pact to curb the rise in global temperatures, which enters a crucial implementation phase in 2020. Last year, greenhouse gas emissions hit a record high.

Existing commitments fall far short of the kind of radical action to transform energy, transport, heating and agricultural systems that scientists say is needed to steer the world off its current course towards disastrous levels of warming.

Reuters