Greta Thunberg had two choices — being a celebrity and making speeches or opting for increasingly radical rhetoric that will put her outside the mainstream.
At the United Nations climate summit on Monday, 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg made the most strident of her speeches so far.
Far from being gratified by all the attention she’s receiving from global leaders, she’s angry that this attention isn’t resulting in radical climate action. This anger may cause problems for the political establishment that has to this point chosen to embrace her.
The substance of Thunberg’s message – that the world only had 420 gigatons of carbon dioxide to emit, as of Jan. 1, 2018, before global temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – comes from a report the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put out last year. The IPCC estimated that sticking to this “carbon budget” until the end of the century would have a 66% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, the goal specified in the Paris climate agreement of 2016.
“How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight?” Thunberg asked in her speech.
She’s right about the current policies being insufficient. According to the Climate Action Tracker, a project supported by the German environment ministry, if countries hold to their commitments on climate action, the world will exceed 1.5 degrees of warming around 2035 and 2 degrees by 2053. That, according to the IPCC, will spell a series of environmental disasters – all within Thunberg’s expected life span.
What Thunberg keeps doing every time she speaks publicly is to remind leaders that the framework goals to which they have subscribed are more ambitious than the actual policies that have been adopted in order to achieve them.
To give just one example, in Germany, Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement demands cutting one-quarter of the country’s coal-burning power generation by the end of this year and putting in place a 180 euro ($198) tax on each ton of CO2 emissions. Even Germany’s Green Party doesn’t go that far: Its one-quarter cut in coal power generation comes at the end of 2022 and its carbon tax is set at 40 euros per ton of CO2.
The problem with lofty climate goals, such as the 1.5-degree target or European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s drive for EU carbon neutrality by 2050, is that they are difficult to align with other reasonable policy goals, such as making sure there are no dramatic cross-national differences in living standards. And when it comes to governing, especially the European-style, coalition-based kind, compromises must be found between, for example, social and environmental policies. This results in all-around well-meaning but not particularly far-reaching programs.
So Thunberg had two choices: Contenting herself with being a celebrity, making speeches before global leaders, accepting prizes and nodding along with their assurances that they hear and understand her; or opting for increasingly radical rhetoric that will put her outside the mainstream. She seems to have chosen the latter.
“How dare you,” the refrain of her UN speech, is hardly designed to get her more speaking engagements. It will, however, appeal to a younger generation frustrated by the disconnect between politicians’ ambitious long-term goals and modest actions. The ease with which this frustration could turn to anger should be of real concern – especially to those politicians who thought all they had to do was to let Greta Thunberg speak.
Courtesy : theprint.in