Thunberg, fellow activists press Merkel over climate action

BERLIN (AP) — Young activists, including Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, held talks Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to press their demands for tougher action on curbing climate change and to get their cause back on the political agenda.

Thunberg, 17, Luisa Neubauer, 24, of Germany and Belgians Anuna de Wever van der Heyden, 19, and Adélaïde Charlier, 19, were accompanied by a handful of climate protesters as they arrived at the chancellery in Berlin, the first talks the youth activists have held with a head of government since the start of the pandemic.

“We are here, we are loud, because our future’s being stolen,” the protesters chanted as photographers mobbed Thunberg.

The 17-year-old shot to fame after starting her solo protests outside the Swedish parliament exactly two years ago. Students around the world soon began following her lead, staging regular large protests, and Thunberg was invited to speak to political and business leaders at U.N. conferences and the annual World Economic Forum in Davos.

But the coronavirus outbreak has prevented the Fridays for Future movement that Thunberg inspired from holding its mass rallies in recent months, dampening its public profile.

“I’m actually surprised that we were able to do this so quickly,” Thunberg said after her meeting with Merkel. “It feels good, I would say.”

The activists had sought a meeting with the chancellor because Germany currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, which together with Britain accounts for 22% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Merkel has in the past lauded the youth activists for putting pressure on politicians to act against global warming.

Thunberg said she appreciated the opportunity to talk to Merkel for 90 minutes, more time than the chancellor spends with many world leaders.

“That really made it possible to have a more in-depth, deep conversation, which we really appreciated,” Thunberg told The Associated Press.

Climate campaigners argue that governments around the world are doing too little to curb the emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that are heating up the atmosphere. In a letter sent to world leaders last month, Thunberg and others called for numerous measures including ending financing for oil and gas projects and setting binding annual limits on emissions, known as carbon budgets.

Neubauer, the German activist, said Merkel appeared to take the science behind climate change seriously.

“She’s a physicist, so that’s a start,” Neubauer said. But she added that the chancellor’s perspective was focused on the progress made during her 30-year political career, rather than the decades to come.

“We look (...) toward the future and we see how, well, bad it looks to us,” Neubauer said of the youth movement. “This discussion today was possibly at least the attempt to bring those perspectives a bit together.”

Thunberg lamented the lack of willingness by governments to act in light of mounting warnings about climate change. A new study released Thursday found that Greenland lost a record amount of ice during an extra warm 2019.

“We can’t keep talking about these distant emissions targets like 2025, 2030, or especially 2050, because we need to tackle this now,” Thunberg told The AP, while acknowledging the difficulty politicians face taking drastic action. “Of course, it’s hard.”

Merkel’s spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, said Wednesday that the German government recently agreed to to cut emissions by up to 55% over the coming decade compared with 1990 levels. It also backs plans for an EU Green Deal and for making Europe the first “climate neutral” continent by 2050.

“The subject (of climate change) is an issue of central importance for the entire German government,” Demmer said. “As such, an exchange with (the activists) is certainly beneficial.”

Charlier, the Belgian activist, said Merkel had assured the group that she did not support the current draft of an EU trade agreement with the Latin American Mercosur bloc that opponents say would be harmful to the environment and human rights. Merkel’s office declined to comment on the issue.

The activists said they are hoping world leaders will start to treat climate change as a crisis, the way they are doing with the pandemic.

“Of course, we are in a health emergency globally and we are seeing second waves everywhere,” Neubauer told The AP. “Yet the climate crisis doesn’t pause.”

Neubauer said activists are planning to stage another global “climate strike” on Sept. 25, although the pandemic situation will determine whether individual protests are held online or on the streets.

While the issue of global warming is likely to become a major campaign topic for November’s U.S. presidential election, none of the four activists in Berlin would comment directly on the Democratic nominees for president and vice president, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The two candidates have drawn the backing of other climate campaigners.

But Neubauer noted that Biden’s stance was markedly different from the one taken by U.S. President Donald Trump, who pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate accord negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

“It’s saddening that, in 2020, you have to be thankful that at least someone who is running for president doesn’t deny the climate crisis,” she said.

Speaking of her hope for change from the top, Neubauer said she hoped heads of government could “act like leaders to, you know, become the adult in the room.”

Asked whether Merkel, who doesn’t plan to run for a fifth term, could be such a leader during her last year in office, Thunberg added: “She could be, if she wanted to.”


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