NEW YORK: Teenager Greta Thunberg first rose to prominence when she began protesting outside the Swedish parliament in 2018 to raise awareness for climate change activism, triggering the Fridays for Future climate strike movement.
On Monday (Sep 23), she spoke at the United Nations climate summit, accusing world leaders of betraying her generation by failing to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
"I shouldn't be up here. I should be back at school on the other side of the ocean," the teenager said. “You come to us young people for hope. How dare you?”
Here’s what you need to know about the 16-year-old activist:
SHE HAS ASPERGER’S SYNDROME, OCD AND SELECTIVE MUTISM
Greta Thunberg was born on Jan 3, 2003 in Stockholm.
She was about eight years old when she first heard about climate change. Thunberg found it “too unreal” that no one was doing anything about it and, at age 11, fell into depression. She stopped eating and speaking, she said in a TED talk.
Later she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder and selective mutism. In her talk at TEDxStockholm, she said this means she “only speaks when (she) thinks it’s necessary – now is one of those moments”.
“I overthink,” she said in an interview with The Guardian earlier this year. “Some people can just let things go, but I can’t especially if there’s something that worries me or makes me sad.”
She recalled that when she was younger, she would cry when teachers showed her class films of plastic in the ocean and starving polar bears.
“My classmates were concerned when they watched the film, but when it stopped, they started thinking about other things. I couldn’t do that. Those pictures were stuck in my head.”
SHE WAS JUST 15 WHEN SHE STARTED HER CLIMATE STRIKE
In August 2018, Greta skipped school and sat outside the Swedish parliament to protest climate change.
Thunberg said in a Facebook post that she initially planned and carried out the strike all by herself, as no one was interested in joining her at that time. While outside parliament, she handed out fliers with a long list of facts about the climate crisis and explanations on why she was striking.
“The first thing I did was to post on Twitter and Instagram what I was doing and it soon went viral. Then journalists and newspapers started to come,” she said.
This eventually evolved into the Fridays for Future movement, which saw millions of young people march in their home countries in support of Greta.
CHANGE BEGAN AT HOME
Thunberg’s revolution started at home with her parents, opera singer Malena Ernman and actor Svante Thunberg. When Thunberg first approached them with her idea of school striking, they were not supportive.
“They did not support the idea of school striking and they said that if I were to do this I would have to do it completely by myself and with no support from them,” Thunberg said.
She eventually convinced her family to start lowering their carbon footprint by adopting a vegan diet and giving up air travel, which also meant her mother had to give up performing internationally.
SHE SAILED ACROSS THE ATLANTIC INSTEAD OF FLYING
To reach the United States and take part in the United Nations summit, Thunberg shunned air travel in favour of a trans-Atlantic voyage on a racing yacht.
The 18-metre boat was fitted with solar panels and underwater turbines that produced electricity onboard.
The catch? The boat had no showers or toilets – those on board had to use a blue bucket.
"Greta taking on this challenge of sailing across on a race boat with zero comfort really shows her commitment to the cause and how far she’s willing to push herself," said the boat’s skipper.
According to a TIME report, the trip on the racing sailboat from Plymouth in the United Kingdom took about two weeks.
SHE IS AN AMNESTY HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD WINNER
Thunberg and the Fridays for Future youth movement received Amnesty International’s Ambassadors of Conscience Award in September. The prize, which celebrates people who have shown “unique leadership and courage in standing up for human rights”, is the organisation’s highest honour.
Amnesty International said in a statement that it chose to give the 2019 award to Thunberg because of her climate change activism efforts.
“Her decision to miss school every Friday starting in August 2018 and instead protest outside the Swedish parliament until it took more serious action to tackle the climate emergency kicked off the Fridays for Future movement. It has since mobilised more than one million young people from all over the world,” it said.
Later that month, Thunberg was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the "alternative Nobel Prize". The Swedish foundation said Thunberg was chosen "for inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts".
"Her resolve to not put up with the looming climate disaster has inspired millions of peers to also raise their voices and demand immediate climate action," it added.
In July, Thunberg was honoured with the Prix Liberte, an award that recognises young people "engaged in a fight for peace and freedom". She donated the entirety of the €25,000 prize money to four different organisations dedicated to climate justice.
Thunberg has also been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.