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Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who sparked the global Fridays for Future movement, joined weekly protests in Turin, Italy on Dec. 13, 2019. (Photo: Greta Thunberg/Twitter)

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who sparked the global Fridays for Future movement, joined weekly protests in Turin, Italy on Dec. 13, 2019. (Photo: Greta Thunberg/Twitter)

Thousands Join Greta Thunberg in Letter Telling Global Leaders It's Time to #FaceTheClimateEmergency​

"We need to face the full picture. We are facing an existential crisis, and this is a crisis that we can not buy, build, or invest our way out of."

Jessica Corbett

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and thousands of other advocates for climate action released an open letter Thursday demanding that European Union and global leaders #FaceTheClimateEmergency by pursuing bold and urgent changes to current economic and political systems that are essential to ensure a habitable future planet.

"It is now clearer than ever that the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, neither from the politicians, media, business, nor finance," says the letter. "And the longer we keep pretending that we are on a reliable path to lower emissions and that the actions required to avoid a climate disaster are available within today's system—or for that matter that we can solve a crisis without treating it like one—the more precious time we will lose."

Thunberg made similar remarks in a Thursday interview about the new campaign, speaking via video with Reuters television from her home in Stockholm.

"We need to see it as, above all, an existential crisis. And as long as it's not being treated as a crisis, we can have as many of these climate change negotiations and talks, conferences as possible. It won't change a thing," the Fridays for Future founder said. "Above all, we are demanding that we need to treat this crisis as a crisis, because if we don't do that, then we won't be able to do anything."

The top signatories are Thunberg and three other young leaders of the global school strike for climate movement she inspired: Luisa Neubauer of Germany and Anuna de Wever van der Heyden and Adélaïde Charlier, both of Belgium.

The letter notes that E.U. countries have signed on to the 2015 Paris climate agreement that aims to limit global temperature rise this century to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels before arguing that "net zero emissions by 2050 for the E.U.—as well as for other financially fortunate parts of the world—equals surrender."

"We need to face the full picture," the letter declares. "We are facing an existential crisis, and this is a crisis that we can not buy, build, or invest our way out of. ​Aiming to 'recover' an economic system that inherently fuels the climate crisis in order to finance climate action is just as absurd as it sounds. Our current system is not 'broken'—the system is doing exactly what it's supposed and designed to be doing. It can no longer be 'fixed.' We need a new system."

"​We need to end the ongoing wrecking, exploitation, and destruction of our life supporting systems and move towards a fully decarbonized economy that centers around the well-being of all people as well as the natural world," the letter continues, warning of the inadequacies of current emission reductions goals and calling out world leaders for having "practically already given up on the possibility of handing over a decent future for coming generations."

Echoing key messages from a radio program Thunberg released earlier this summer, the letter cites recent United Nations scientific reports from which "even a child can see that the climate and ecological crisis cannot be solved within today's system."

"If we are to avoid a climate catastrophe we have to make it possible to tear up contracts and abandon existing deals and agreements, on a scale we can't even begin to imagine today," the letter says. "And those types of actions are not politically, economically or legally possible within today's system."

The authors of the letter included a list of demands described as "some first steps, essential to our chance of avoiding a climate- and ecological disaster​."

  • Effective immediately, halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies and immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.
  • E.U. member states must advocate to make ecocide an international crime at the International Criminal Court.
  • Include total emissions in all figures and targets, including consumption index, international aviation and shipping.
  • Starting today—establish annual, binding carbon budgets based on the current best available science and the IPCC's budget which gives us a 66% chance of limiting the global temperature rise to below 1.5 °C. They need to include the global aspect of equity, tipping points and feedback loops and shouldn’t depend on assumptions of possible future negative emissions technologies.
  • Safeguard and protect democracy.
  • Design climate policies that protect workers and the most vulnerable and reduce all forms of inequality: economic, racial, and gender.
  • Treat the climate- and ecological emergency like an emergency.

Their message comes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and a global reckoning with racial injustice sparked by Minneapolis police killing George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in late May.

"The last few months the world has watched with horror how the Covid-19 pandemic has hit people all over the globe. ​During this tragedy, we are seeing how many—not all—world leaders and people around the world stepped up and acted for the greater good of society," the letter says, suggesting similar urgency should be applied to tackling the climate crisis.

"There is one other thing that has become clearer than ever: Climate and environmental justice can not be achieved as long as we continue to ignore and look away from the social and racial injustices and oppression that have laid the foundations of our modern world," the letter also says. "The fight for justice and equity is universal."

As of press time, 150 scientists and over 19,400 other individuals from dozens of countries had also endorsed the letter.

Supporters range from advocacy groups including, Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, and PETA to bands like Coldplay and The 1975. Musical artists Annie Lennox, Björk, Ellie Goulding, Roger Waters, and Shawn Mendes are on the list, as are actors Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Jane Fonda, Jameela Jamil, Joaquin Phoenix, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Mark Ruffalo.

Other signatories include high-profile figures such as Bianca Jagger, Bill McKibben, Dallas Goldtooth, Daniel Ellsberg, David Hogg, George Monbiot, Jennifer Morgan, Kumi Naidoo, Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Atwood, Michael Mann, Princess Marie-Esméralda of Belgium, Naomi Klein, Stella McCartney, Vandana Shiva, Varshini Prakash, and Winona LaDuke.

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