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Greta Thunberg
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What you need to know about teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg

The 16-year-old Swede just told the EU they are not doing enough to stop climate change

The young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has told political and business leaders in Brussels that the EU needs to double its climate change reduction targets if it wants to help keep global warming below a dangerous level. Joined by Belgian and German students from the ongoing school strike movement, the teenager told officials that action was needed now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge,” she said.

The speech marks the most recent example of Thunberg’s inspired leadership on climate change. The 16-year-old skipped school last September to sit outside Sweden’s government buildings, protesting against her country’s failure to follow targets laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement. Her defiant speeches have rallied young people around the world – around 100,000 school children are now striking every Friday across hundreds of towns and cities, calling for serious reforms to climate change policy.

As her campaign gathers global momentum, here’s everything you need to know about the Swedish teen fighting for our planet’s future.


Thunberg first heard about climate change as an 8-year-old, when she remembers feeling shocked by society’s passivity to the threat it posed. “Why were there no restrictions? Why wasn’t it made illegal? To me, that did not add up,” she told a TED talk in Stockholm. By the age of 11, Thunberg had become depressed, stopped talking and eating. She was later diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, OCD, and selective mutism. “That basically means I only speak when I think it's necessary. Now is one of those moments,” she said last November.

Thunberg is distantly related to Svante Arrhenius – the Nobel-prize-winning scientist who in 1896 was the first to calculate the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide emissions. After learning about the damaging impact of humans on the planet, she urged her family to stop travelling via plane and became vegan.


Following Sweden’s hottest summer on record, Thunberg began a solo school strike last August outside her country’s parliamentary building in central Stockholm. She refused to go to school until after Sweden’s general election on September 9, drawing attention to the climate crisis and her government’s disinterested response to it. Handing out leaflets that read, “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future,” Thunberg’s protest attracted media attention and captured imaginations in Sweden.

Since then, thousands of young climate change activists in multiple countries have been inspired by Thunberg’s solo protest. Students from schools in France, Germany, Thailand, Australia, Nigeria, Poland, and Japan have joined her in skipping a day school to demand greater action from governments in addressing climate change. Thunberg hailed a huge mobilisation of 10,000 students in the UK on February 15 as “the beginning of great changes.”


Thunberg’s recent speech in Brussels was not the first time she confronted politicians directly. The young environmental activist was defiant as she addressed the UN climate change summit in December. “Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago,” she told the conference of nearly 200 nations in Poland. “We have to understand what the older generation has dealt to us, what mess they have created that we have to clean up and live with. We have to make our voices heard.”

In January, Thunberg took the School Strike 4 Climate Action to the World Economic Forum, telling politicians: “our house is on fire”. It took her 32 hours to reach Davos by train, and she spent the night camping with climate scientists in temperatures of -18C.

She knows how to communicate effectively on Twitter too. The 16-year-old recently told an Australian state education minister that his statement “belongs in a museum” after he warned students and teachers that they would be punished for attending climate rallies during class time – she also frequently shares stories emerging from across the global youth movement.


Thunberg plans to continue her protest until governments take action and start reducing emissions. With the #FridaysForFuture school strike now in its 27th week, the young activist will keep striking every week until Sweden meets its Paris Agreement climate targets. Thunberg is also meeting up with other young people from around the world as her campaign builds global momentum – a “big international strike” is planned for March 15.


Some commentators might be worrying about protests ruining the new lawn outside parliament, but others are voicing their solidarity with the next generation and encouraging young people to feel safe standing up for their planet. In the Netherlands, 350 scientists have signed an open letter stating their support for the school strikes. Their letter reads: “On the basis of the facts supplied by climate science, the campaigners are right. That is why we, as scientists, support them.” As the movement continues to build, teachers in the UK are joining their students to demand curriculum reform, marching against “negligent” climate change education.

Thunberg and the thousands of young people inspired by her activism show there is hope for the future, but that does not count for much if we do not join them in forcing our politicians to act now.