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We Must Call Out Our Naked Emperors on the Climate Emergency

Why nobody should be fooled by the gaps between pledges and real action.

Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg speaks during a "Youth Strike 4 Climate" protest march on March 6, 2020 in Brussels. (Photo: JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images)

Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg speaks during a "Youth Strike 4 Climate" protest march on March 6, 2020 in Brussels. (Photo: JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images)

Greta Thunberg was just 15 when she began her weekly protests outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm in August 2018, unable to fathom why no one was talking about the gravity of the climate crisis we're facing. Since then, the 18-year-old activist has sparked a global movement that has seen millions of people take to the streets, making her one of the most recognizable faces of the environmental cause worldwide. 

Here, Thunberg explains why she wants our leaders to move beyond "big words and little action" when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.

On Earth Day 2021, April 22nd, at the Leaders' Climate Summit led by United States president Joe Biden, countries will present their new climate commitments, including net-zero by 2050. They will call these hypothetical targets ambitious. However, when you compare the overall current best-available science to these insufficient, so-called "climate targets," you can clearly see that there's a gap—there are decades missing where drastic action must be taken.

Of course, we welcome all efforts to safeguard future and present living conditions. And these targets could be a great start if it wasn't for the tiny fact that they are full of gaps and loopholes. Such as leaving out emissions from imported goods, international aviation and shipping, as well as the burning of biomass, manipulating baseline data, excluding most feedback loops and tipping points, ignoring the crucial global aspect of equity and historic emissions, and making these targets completely reliant on fantasy or barely existing carbon-capturing technologies. But I don't have time to go into all that now.

The point is that we can keep using creative carbon accounting and cheat in order to pretend that these targets are in line with what is needed. But we must not forget that while we can fool others and even ourselves, we cannot fool nature and physics. The emissions are still there, whether we choose to count them or not.

We cannot be satisfied with something just because it's better than nothing. We have to go further than that. We must believe that we can do this, because we can.

Still, as it is now, the people in power get away with it since the gap of awareness is so immense. And this is the heart of the problem. If you call these pledges and commitments "bold" or "ambitious," then you clearly haven't fully understood the emergency we are in.

I've met with many world leaders and even they admit that their targets are not in line with their commitments. And that's natural. They are only doing what they consider to be politically possible. Their job is to fulfill the wishes of voters, and if voters are not demanding real climate action, then of course no real changes will happen. And thankfully, this is how democracy works. Public opinion is what runs the free world. If we want change then we must spread awareness and make the seemingly impossible become possible.

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We understand that the world is complex, that many are trying their best and that what is needed isn't easy. And, of course, these very insufficient targets are better than nothing. But we cannot be satisfied with something just because it's better than nothing. We have to go further than that. We must believe that we can do this, because we can. When we humans come together and decide to fulfill something, we can achieve almost anything.

"I am not ready to give up"

When leaders now present these pledges, they admit that they surrender on the 1.5 degrees Celsius target. They are surrendering on their promises and on our futures. I don't know about you, but I sure am not ready to give up. Not in a million years. We will keep fighting for a safe future. Every fraction of a degree matters and will always matter.

You may call us naive for believing change is possible, and that's fine. But at least we're not so naive that we believe that things will be solved by countries and companies making vague, distant, insufficient targets without any real pressure from the media and the general public.

The gap between what needs to be done and what we are actually doing is widening by the minute. The gap between the urgency needed and the current level of awareness and attention is becoming more and more absurd. And the gap between our so-called climate targets and the overall, current best-available science should no longer be possible to ignore. 

These gaps of action, awareness, and time are the biggest elephant that has ever found itself inside any room. Until we can address this gap, no real change is possible. And no solutions will be found.

Our emperors are naked—let's call them out. And please, mind the gap.

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg is a youth climate strike leader in Sweden.

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