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By Sam Meredith- Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Thursday accused the political and business elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, of prioritizing self-interest and short-term profits over people and the planet.
“We are right now in Davos where basically the people who are mostly fueling the destruction of the planet, the people who are at the very core of the climate crisis, the people who are investing in fossil fuels etcetera, etcetera and yet somehow these are the people that we seem to rely on solving our problems,” Thunberg said.
“They have proven time and time again that they are not prioritising that. They are prioritising self-greed, corporate greed and short-term economic profits above people and above planet.”
“These people are going to go as far as they possibly can as long as they can get away with it. They will continue to invest in fossil fuels, they will continue to throw people under the bus for their own gain,” she added.
Thunberg said it was an “absurd” situation that the world seems to be listening to Davos delegates rather than those on the frontlines of the climate emergency.
The 20-year-old was released by police earlier this week after being detained alongside other climate activists for protesting the expansion of a coal mine in the tiny village of Luetzerath in Germany.
“[Wednesday] I was part of a group that peacefully protested the expansion of a coal mine in Germany. We were kettled by police and then detained but were let go later that evening,” Thunberg said on Wednesday via Twitter. “Climate protection is not a crime,” she added.
Alongside IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, Thunberg took part in the CNBC-moderated panel with youth climate advocates Vanessa Nakate, Helena Gualinga and Luisa Neubauer.
The four climate activists arrived in Davos having recently composed an open letter to the CEOs of fossil fuel companies through the non-profit website Avaaz. Thunberg, Nakate, Gualinga and Neubauer called on the executives of energy giants to “immediately stop” opening new oil, gas or coal extraction sites and said they intended to keep protesting in the streets in “huge numbers.”
“We know that Big Oil knew for decades that fossil fuels cause catastrophic climate change, misled the public about climate science and risks [and] deceived politicians with disinformation sowing doubt and causing delay,” the letter says.
It adds that fossil fuel executives “must end these activities as they are in direct violation of our human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, your duties of care, as well as the rights of Indigenous people.”
Failure to act immediately, the activists warn, comes at a time when citizens around the world “will consider taking any and all legal action to hold you accountable.” More than 900,000 people added their names to the letter as of Thursday afternoon.
‘Dirty deals’ in Davos
Luisa Neubauer, climate activist and one of the main organisers of the Fridays for Future movement in Germany, on the same panel Thursday that she spent the last week with Thunberg and many others “defending livelihoods against coal diggers” in western Germany.
“And many people then said ‘oh that is an interesting change in scenery coming from the mud in Luetzerath to Davos.’ We walked through the dirty mud in Luetzerath and now we are in Davos witnessing dirty deals being made so I’m not sure how much of a change that actually is,” Neubauer said.
“We don’t see the sense of urgency reflected in action,” said Helena Gualinga, an Indigenous youth climate advocate from Ecuador.
“Indigenous communities, Indigenous peoples, youth, scientists, we have all been pointing towards a direction [but] the oil industry is not going there, the world leaders are not going there,” she added.
The fossil fuel industry has sought to underline the importance of energy security amid calls for a rapid transition to renewables, typically highlighting that demand for fossil fuels remains high.
To be sure, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, is the chief driver of the climate crisis.
“What haven’t we said? What haven’t we done? What haven’t we communicated enough?” Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate said on Thursday.
Nakate said it was evident that in most cases, the countries and areas around the world least responsible for the climate emergency were typically the hardest hit.
IEA says investment is ‘magic word’
Asked why new fossil fuel production projects were going ahead despite opposition from both the IEA and climate campaigners, Executive Director Fatih Birol said, “The issue is we have to keep the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If it goes above that, the rather fragile equilibrium of our planet will be distorted — we will all be in trouble.”
“We need to get energy from clean carbon-free form energy sources and to do that, the magic word is investment.”
Birol said the world currently invests about US$1.5 trillion in clean energy, but this needs to increase to US$4 trillion in order to be in line with climate targets.
“If we do that … then we don’t need any more coal, we don’t need any more oil and gas. [We don’t need any] new investments there, but the point of departure is making clean energy investments and having a clean, secure energy future for all,” Birol said.
The climate emergency is one of the main themes for this year’s annual meeting in the Swiss Alpine town of Davos, which brings together roughly 1,500 business leaders.
Addressing delegates during a special address on Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned fossil fuel giants for ignoring their own climate science. He accused the oil and gas industry of seeking to expand production despite knowing “full well” that their business model is incompatible with human survival.
“Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie,” Guterres said. “And like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held to account.”
Thunberg has previously excoriated the climate inaction of the world’s political and business leaders at WEF, saying in Jan. 2019, “Our house is on fire.” (CNBC)