Why 16-Year-Old Girl Rattled Buhari, Other World Leaders At UN Climate Summit With ‘How Dare You’

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On Monday, a young climate crisis activist, Greta Thunberg, opened the United Nations Climate Action Summit with a seeming angry condemnation of world leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, for failing to take strong measures to combat the menace of the climate crisis.

At the event, Buhari promised that his administration will tackle climate change in Nigeria, and accordingly revealed how his administration planned to reverse the negative effects of climate change in the country.

‘’I wish to reiterate Nigeria’s commitment to its obligation under the Paris agreement, the aspirations enshrined in our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and ensure a resilient future that mainstreams climate risks in our decision making.

‘’I want to announce that the government of Nigeria will develop a more robust sectorial action plan, and expand the scope of our sovereign green bonds in line with our intended upward review of Nigeria’s NDC’s towards the inclusion of the water and waste sectors by 2020.

‘’In the water sector, Nigeria will issue a green bond for irrigation and construct multi-purpose dams for power, irrigation and water supply. We will strengthen solid and liquid waste management systems to attract more private sector investors.

‘’We will take concrete steps to harness climate innovative ideas by including youths in decision making processes as part of our over-all climate governance architecture. We will mobilize Nigerian youths towards planting 25 million trees to enhance Nigeria’s carbon sink.

‘’In the energy sector, Nigeria is presently diversifying its energy sources from dependence on gas-powered system to hydro, solar, wind, biomass and nuclear sources. Specifically, Nigeria is progressively working to realize 30 percent energy efficiency and renewable energy mix by 2030. This is envisaged to lead to 179 million tons of carbon dioxide reduction per annum by 2030.

‘’…Furthermore, the federal government has commenced the implementation of the hydrocarbon pollution remediation programme in Ogoniland, to recover the carbon sink potential of the mangrove ecosystem of the one thousand square kilometers (1,000 KM2) polluted site in the affected area’’, Buhari said.

Nigeria does not appear to be showing any seriousness with the Ogoni clean-up. Nine years after the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, the Nigerian leader shamelessly announced at the global event, ‘’the federal government has commenced the implementation of the hydrocarbon pollution remediation programme in Ogoniland’’.

The UN agency has been saying that the environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health.

A major new independent scientific assessment, carried out by UNEP, shows that pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the region has penetrated further and deeper than many may have supposed. The assessment has been unprecedented.

Over a 14-month period, the UNEP team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and engaged over 23,000 people at local community meetings

Detailed soil and groundwater contamination investigations were conducted at 69 sites, which ranged in size from 1,300 square metres (Barabeedom-K.dere, Gokana Local Government Area to 79 hectares (Ajeokpori-Akpajo, Eleme Local Government Area).

Altogether more than 4,000 samples were analysed, including water taken from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes.

Sadly, the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s main honey comb is a region of contradiction. While the region produces the huge wealth of the country, oil pollution has left the vast majority of its peoples poorer, and the government is not doing any tangible thing about it.

In Northern Nigeria, desertification is instrumental to the veiled jihadist killing of the herdsmen across the country just as the land-locked Eastern Nigeria is largely responsible for all forms of migration by the Igbo people in search of material resources.

Despite President Buhari’s vociferous claim, his administration, since 2015 has not shown any seriousness in tackling the worsening environmental crisis in Nigeria. He may have succeeded in equivocating to the other world leaders, certainly not to Greta Thunberg.   

“How dare you”, she said. “This is all wrong.”  

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old, launched a massive climate strike movement that drew millions to the streets last Friday. “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!”

Greta Thunberg is taking a sabbatical year from school to attend conferences and meetings with policymakers and those impacted by climate change.

Persuading her to go to New York was not easy. She refuses to fly because of the high levels of emissions from air travel. When she traveled to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, she traveled by train, and it took her 32 hours.

To get her to go to New York to address the UN, she was offered the option of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on a 60-foot zero-emissions yacht. This daring young woman does not mince words. Not even when addressing the world’s most powerful people.

“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth”, the Swedish climate activist told the UN General Assembly. “How dare you?”

Speaking during the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, the activist was visibly frustrated with her audience and at times appeared to be holding back tears of anger.

Days after millions of young people took to the streets worldwide to demand emergency action on climate change, leaders gathered for the annual UNGA aiming to inject fresh momentum into stalling efforts to curb carbon emissions.

She started with weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish Parliament, holding a handmade “School Climate Strike” sign. In just a few months, the one-girl protest grew into a worldwide movement, with students walking out of schools in well over 100 countries.

A visibly emotional Greta Thunberg said in stern remarks at the opening of the summit that the generations that have polluted the most have burdened her and her generation with the extreme impacts of climate change.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.’’

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” Greta said, adding that the plans that leaders will unveil will not be enough to respond to the rate of the planet’s warming. “Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic”, she told the rich and powerful gathered in the Swiss mountain resort.

Like in New York on Monday, her speech was met with a stunned silence, then an overwhelming applause. She said her message to the global leaders gathered in New York is simple: “We are watching you.”

Adding, “if you chose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

“You say you ‘hear’ us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation, and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.”

Greta has galvanised a new wave of climate crisis activism through her weekly Fridays for Future school strikes, which she began with her weekly, solitary protests outside of the Swedish parliament.

Following her speech, separately on Monday, she and 15 other children filed a complaint with the UN alleging that five of the world’s leading economies have violated their human rights by not taking adequate action to stop the unfolding climate crisis.

The petition names five countries — Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey — that they say have failed to uphold their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a 30-year-old human rights treaty that is the most widely ratified in history.

The filing of the petition to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child is the first-of-its-kind.

Specifically, they are asking the committee’s 18 experts to accept the petition and agree to investigate, and, ultimately, to find that climate change is a crisis for children’s rights and issue recommendations for the named countries on how they can better respond to climate change.

The recommendations laid out in the complaint would be legally binding if approved by the committee, but there is no real method in place to ensure the countries follow through. And given how vague some of the requests are, it would be hard to measure progress.

“The goal of the petition is to get these nations, as well as others, to act swiftly to combat climate change in the fullest and faster way possible”, said Jill Tauber, vice president of litigation for climate and energy for Earthjustice.

The environmental law nonprofit is co-counsel on the petition and details the specifics of the complaint — including why it targets five specific countries — on its website.

Per an Earthjustice press release posted Monday, every country except the US has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Of those countries, 45 agreed to an additional protocol that allows children to petition the UN directly about treaty violations. Within that group of 45 nations, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey are pumping out some of the most pollution that causes climate change”, the civic group added. “None of the five is on a path needed to keep the planet from heating to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius.”

More than 60 countries pledged to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. But to some observers in the climate world, the sum of climate pledges announced was underwhelming.

“In her blunt and powerful speech at the Climate Action Summit, Greta Thunberg laid down a clear line in the sand, separating those countries and leaders who are united behind the science from those who continue to place the profits of fossil fuel polluters above the safety of their citizens”, Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

“Sadly, most leaders from the world’s largest emitting countries failed this litmus test, dodging their responsibility to step up action as is essential to address the climate emergency we now face.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had warned governments ahead of the event that they would have to offer action plans to qualify to speak at the summit, which is aimed at boosting the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat global warming.

In his opening remarks, he tried to capture the urgency of climate change and called out the fossil fuel industry. “Nature is angry. And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature, because nature always strikes back, and around the world nature is striking back with fury”, Guterres said.

“There is a cost to everything. But the biggest cost is doing nothing. The biggest cost is subsidising a dying fossil fuel industry, building more and more coal plants, and denying what is plain as day: that we are in a deep climate hole, and to get out we must first stop digging”, he said.

Thunberg and Trump

After her speech, Greta happened to be in the lobby of the UN as President Donald Trump arrived — and news cameras from around the world captured the instantly memeworthy expression on her face as he walked by.

Trump was only at the climate summit for about 14 minutes, according to the White House pool report, and did not make any formal statement. Trump has questioned his own government’s climate scientists, vowed to withdraw the US from the main global climate agreement, the Paris climate accord, and his administration has rolled back dozens of climate rules and initiatives.

Trump, a climate change denier who has undone every major US regulation aimed at combating climate change, made a brief appearance in the audience of the summit along with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He did not give remarks but he listened to remarks by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who serves as the UN special envoy on climate action, called out Trump’s stealth appearance before he spoke on Monday: “Hopefully our deliberations will be helpful to you as you formulate climate policy,” he said to audience laughter.

While a Russian official announced it was finally ratifying the Paris climate agreement, making it one of the last countries to take this step, the Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová said her country will end subsidies to coal mines in 2023.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her nation would phase out coal power by 2038, among a series of climate targets. Merkel announced Germany would double Germany’s contribution to a UN fund to support less developed countries to combat climate change to 4 billion euros from 2 billion euros.

Greta Thunberg’s full speech at the UN:

This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.

The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences.

To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world had 420 gigatons of carbon dioxide left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years.

There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today. Because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.

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