Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg (born 3 January 2003) is a Swedish environmental activist on climate change whose campaigning has gained international recognition.
Greta Thunberg was born on 3 January 2003 in Stockholm, the daughter of opera singer Malena Ernman and actor Svante Thunberg. Her paternal grandfather is actor and director Olof Thunberg.
Thunberg says she first heard about climate change in 2011, when she was 8 years old, and could not understand why so little was being done about it. Three years later she became depressed, lethargic, and stopped talking as well as eating, and eventually was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism. Her Asperger diagnosis was made public nationwide in Sweden by her mother in May 2015, in order to help other families in a similar situation, as she said. While acknowledging that her diagnosis "has limited me before", she does not view her Asperger's as an illness and has instead called it her "superpower".
On 10 December 2018, Time magazine named Thunberg one of the world's 25 most influential teenagers of 2018. In 2018, Thunberg was awarded the Fryshuset scholarship of the Young Role Model of the Year.
In an interview with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!, Thunberg said she first got the idea of a climate strike after school shootings in the United States in February 2018 led to several youths refusing to go back to school. These teen activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, went on to organise the March for Our Lives in support of greater gun control.
In May 2018, Thunberg won a climate change essay competition held by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. In part, she wrote that "I want to feel safe. How can I feel safe when I know we are in the greatest crisis in human history?” The paper published her article after which she was contacted by Bo Thorén from Fossil Free Dalsland, a group interested in doing something about climate change. Thunberg attended a few of their meetings, and at one of them, Thorén also suggested that school children could strike for climate change. Thunberg tried to persuade other young people to get involved but "no one was really interested" so eventually, she decided to go ahead with the strike by herself.
In May 2018, before starting her climate strike, Thunberg was one of the winners of Svenska Dagbladet's debate article writing competition on the climate for young people.
On 20 August 2018, Thunberg, who had just started ninth grade, decided not to attend school until the 2018 Swedish general election on 9 September; her protest began after the heat waves and wildfires during Sweden's hottest summer in at least 262 years. Her demands were that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement, and she protested by sitting outside the Riksdag every day for three weeks during school hours with the sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate).
After October 2018, Thunberg's activism evolved from solitary protesting to taking part in demonstrations throughout Europe; making several high-profile public speeches, and mobilising her growing number of followers on social media platforms. By March 2019, she was still staging her regular protests outside the Swedish parliament every Friday, where other students now occasionally join her. Her activism has not interfered with her schoolwork, but she has had less spare time. Speaking at the UN climate talks in Madrid in December 2019, Thunberg stated that global wave of school strikes over the previous year had “achieved nothing” because greenhouse gas emissions were still rising - by 4% since 2015.
In November 2018, about three months into her school climate strike, Thunberg was nominated for the Children's Climate Prize, which is awarded by the Swedish electricity company Telge Energi. However, Thunberg declined to accept the award because many of the finalists would have to fly to Stockholm for the ceremony and a required meeting with one another.
— Greta Thunberg in her TEDx TalkStockholm, November 2018
After the general elections, Thunberg continued to strike only on Fridays. She inspired school students across the globe to take part in student strikes. As of December 2018, more than 20,000 students had held strikes in at least 270 cities. The school strikes for climate on 20 and 27 September 2019 were attended by over four million people, according to one of the co-organisers.
In one of her first speeches demanding climate action, Thunberg described the selective mutism aspect of her condition as meaning she "only speaks when necessary". In 2019, Thunberg also contributed a voiceover for a release of "The 1975", a song by the English band by the same name. Thunberg finishes by urging: "So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel." Proceeds will go to Extinction Rebellion at Thunberg's request.
Also part of her messaging is that the 1.5 °C commitment as part of the Paris Agreement is insufficient and that the greenhouse gas emissions curve needs to start declining steeply no later than 2020. In February 2019, at a conference of the European Economic and Social Committee, she said that the EU must reduce their CO2 emissions by 80% by 2030, double the 40% goal set in Paris.
In February 2019, 224 academics signed an open letter of support stating they were inspired by the actions of Thunberg and the striking school children in making their voices heard.
In February 2019, Thunberg shared a stage with the then President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, where he outlined "In the next financial period from 2021 to 2027, every fourth euro spent within the EU budget will go towards action to mitigate climate change". Climate issues also played a significant role in European Parliament election in May 2019 as Green parties recorded their highest ever score, boosting their MEP numbers from 52 to 72. Many of the gains came from northern European countries where young people have taken to the streets inspired by Thunberg.
In June 2019, Thunberg spoke by video link with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who had submitted the Green New Deal to the U.S. House of Representatives in February 2019, which calls for the United States to achieve "net-zero" greenhouse gases within a decade. They discussed how it feels when their views are not taken seriously because they are young, and what tactics really work.
On 13 March 2019, two deputies of the Swedish parliament and three deputies of the Norwegian parliament nominated Thunberg as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. The nominating politicians explained their decision by arguing that global warming will be the cause of "wars, conflict and refugees" if nothing is done to halt it. Thunberg responded that she was "honoured and very grateful" for the nomination. The Nobel Peace Prize was ultimately awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali. If Thunberg had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize she would have become the youngest person ever to receive it.
On 31 March 2019, Thunberg received the German Goldene Kamera Special Climate Protection award. On 1 April 2019, the Prix Liberté from France's region Normandy was awarded to Thunberg, which she received in Caen on 21 July that year. Thunberg is the first recipient of this new award, which was designed to honour a young person engaged in a fight for peace and freedom. Thunberg said she would donate the €25,000 prize money to four organisations working for climate justice and helping areas already affected by climate change.
On 8 March 2019, Thunberg was named Swedish Woman of the Year by Swedish Women's Educational Association.
In April 2019, Time magazine named Thunberg as one of the 100 most influential people of 2019. In the same month, the Chilean-based organisation, Fundación Milarepa para el Diálogo con Asia, headed by Mario Aguilar of the University of St Andrews, announced that Thunberg had been selected as the recipient of the organisation's Laudato Si' Prize. Webby Awards named Thunberg for "Webby Social Movement of the Year" of 2019.
On 12 April 2019, Thunberg shared the Norwegian Fritt Ords Prize, which celebrates freedom of speech, with the Nature and Youth organisation. The conferring organisation, Fritt Ord noted their determined committed activism even in the face of pervasive online and media harassment. Thunberg donated her share of the prize money to a lawsuit which seeks to halt Norwegian oil exploration in the Arctic.
In May 2019, Vice released a 30-minute documentary, Make the World Greta Again. It features interviews with a number of youth protest leaders in Europe.
In May 2019, artist Jody Thomas painted a 50-foot-high (15 m) mural of Thunberg on a wall in Bristol. It portrays the bottom half of her face as if under rising sea water. In May 2019, Thunberg was featured on the cover of Time magazine where she was described as a role model, and one of the "next generation leaders".
In May 2019, the University of Mons announced it had awarded a doctor honoris causa (honorary degree) to Thunberg. The doctoral diploma and insignia was bestowed at the official opening of the university's 2019–2020 academic year on 10 October 2019.Thunberg was unable to be present for the ceremony, but thanked the university in a video.
Thunberg published a collection of her climate action speeches, No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, in May 2019 with the earnings being donated to charity.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres also endorsed the school strikes initiated by Thunberg, admitting that "My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry." Speaking at an event in New Zealand in May 2019, Guterres said his generation was "not winning the battle against climate change" and that it's up to youth to "rescue the planet".
In June 2019, Swedish Railways (SJ) reported that the number of Swedes taking the train for domestic journeys had risen by 8% from the previous year, reflecting growing public concern about the impact of flying on CO2 emissions that is highlighted by Thunberg's refusal to fly to international conferences. Being embarrassed or ashamed to take a plane because of its environmental impact has been described on social media as flygskam or 'shame of flying', along with the hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken, which translates as #istayontheground.
On 7 June 2019, Amnesty International announced that it will give Thunberg their most prestigious award, the Ambassador of Conscience Award, for her leadership in the climate movement. Thunberg then said the prize equally belongs to everyone who has taken part in the Fridays for Future Movement in school strike for climate. The activist said the award is "for all those millions of people, young people, around the world who together make up the movement called Friday's for Future."
Thunberg has inspired a number of her school-aged peers in what has been described as "The Greta effect". In response to her outspoken stance, various politicians have also acknowledged the need to focus on climate change. Britain's secretary for the environment, Michael Gove, said: "When I listened to you, I felt great admiration, but also responsibility and guilt. I am of your parents' generation, and I recognise that we haven't done nearly enough to address climate change and the broader environmental crisis that we helped to create." Labour politician Ed Miliband, who was responsible for introducing the Climate Change Act 2008, said: "You have woken us up. We thank you. All the young people who have gone on strike have held up a mirror to our society … you have taught us all a really important lesson. You have stood out from the crowd." In June 2019, a YouGov poll in Britain found that public concern about the environment had soared to record levels in the UK since Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion had "pierced the bubble of denial".
In July 2019, Agence France-Presse reported that OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) secretary-general Mohammed Barkindo "complained of what he called 'unscientific' attacks on the oil industry by climate change campaigners, calling them 'perhaps the greatest threat to our industry going forward'", and said he was apparently referring "to the recent wave of school strikes inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg's 'Fridays for Future' movement". . Thunberg and other climate activists responded by calling his remarks a badge of honour.
In July 2019, Thunberg was awarded the Geddes Environment Medal by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, which automatically granted her its Honorary Fellowship.
In late 2018, Thunberg began the school climate strikes and public speeches for which she has become an internationally recognised climate activist. Her father does not like her missing school, but said: "[We] respect that she wants to make a stand. She can either sit at home and be really unhappy, or protest, and be happy". Thunberg says her teachers are divided in their views about her missing class to make her point. She says: "As people they think what I am doing is good, but as teachers they say I should stop." In July 2019, Time magazine reported Thunberg was taking a "sabbatical year" from school, intending to travel in the Americas while meeting people from the climate movement.
In August 2019, Scott Walsman wrote in Scientific American that Thunberg's detractors have "launched personal attacks", "bash (her) autism", and "increasingly rely on ad hominem attacks to blunt her influence."
In August 2019, Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Plymouth, UK, to New York, US, in a 60 ft racing yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines. The trip was announced as a carbon-neutral transatlantic crossing serving as a demonstration of Thunberg's declared beliefs of the importance of reducing emissions. France 24 reported that several crew would fly to New York to take the yacht back to Europe.
In August 2019, publication and sales of children's books about the climate crisis reportedly doubled. Publishers attribute this to the "Greta effect".
The voyage lasted 15 days, from 14 to 28 August 2019. While in the Americas, Thunberg attended the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. Before it was cancelled due to mass protests, Thunberg had also planned to attend the COP 25 Climate Change Conference in Santiago, Chile, in December.
In September 2019, Donald Trump shared a video of Thunberg angrily addressing world leaders, along with a quote of hers that "people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction". Trump wrote about Thunberg, tweeting: "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!" Thunberg reacted by changing her Twitter bio to match his description, and stating she could not "understand why grown-ups would choose to mock children and teenagers for just communicating and acting on the science when they could do something good instead."
On 23 September 2019 in New York, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) hosted a press conference where Thunberg joined 15 other children (Ayakha Melithafa, Alexandria Villaseñor, Catarina Lorenzo, Carl Smith, et al.) and together the group announced they had made an official complaint against five nations that are not on track to meet the emission reduction targets they committed to in their Paris Agreement pledges: Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey. The complaint challenges these five countries under the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Protocol is a quasi-judicial mechanism which allows children or their representatives, who believe their rights have been violated to bring a complaint before the relevant ‘treaty body’, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee). If the complaint is successful, the countries will be asked to respond, but any suggestions are not legally binding.
On 25 September 2019, Thunberg was named as one of four winners of the 2019 Right Livelihood Award, known as Sweden's alternative Nobel Prize. Thunberg won the award "for inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts", the Right Livelihood Foundation said in a statement.
On 27 September 2019, Thunberg was awarded Keys to the City of Montréal, Canada, by Mayor Valérie Plante. Upon receiving Keys to the City, Thunberg said "I am incredibly honoured." She was in Montréal for the Global Climate Strike where over 500,000 people marched calling on political leaders to take action against climate change and met with Mayor Plante after delivering a speech to the massed protesters.
On 3 September 2019, Thunberg received the first-ever Game Changer Award at the GQ "Men of the Year Awards 2019." The award was designed specifically with her in mind.
The September 2019 issue of British Vogue magazine's cover featured Thunberg (along with fifteen women); the cover was created by guest editor Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
Thunberg has given many speeches during climate strikes, at NGO events such as a TEDx conference, and before gatherings of national and world leaders. In one recent speech, at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit on 23 September 2019, Thunberg said to world leaders: "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!"
In October 2019, Vladimir Putin described Thunberg as a "kind girl and very sincere", while suggesting she was being manipulated to serve others' interests. Putin criticised her as "poorly informed": "No one has explained to Greta that the modern world is complex and different and people in Africa or in many Asian countries want to live at the same wealth level as in Sweden." Similar to her reaction to Trump, Thunberg updated her Twitter bio to reflect Putin's description of her.
On 1 October 2019, Entomologist's Monthly Magazine published an academic paper wherein a newly identified species of beetle (Nelloptodes gretae) was named after Thunberg. The author, scientist Dr Michael Darby, said he chose the name because he was "immensely impressed" by the Swedish teenager's environmental campaigning, and he wanted to acknowledge her outstanding contribution in raising awareness of environmental issues.
On 29 October 2019, Thunberg was awarded the 2019 Nordic Council Environment Prize, but she declined to accept the award or prize money of $52,000, stating "the climate movement does not need any more awards.” She further stated that the climate movement needed people in power to start to listen to science and not awards.
On 4 October 2019, on behalf of the KidsRights Foundation, Desmond Tutu announced that Thunberg, along with 14-year-old Divina Maloum from Cameroon, was awarded the International Children's Peace Prize of 2019. "I am in awe of you," Tutu said. "Your powerful message is amplified by your youthful energy and unshakable belief that children can, no must, improve their own futures. You are true change-makers who have demonstrated most powerfully that children can move the world." The prize will be awarded on 20 November 2019 at a ceremony in The Hague.
On 8 October 2019, Thunberg, along with Native American teenage climate activist Tokata Iron Eyes, took part in a climate panel on the North Dakota side of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. At the end of the panel discussion, Thunberg was honored with a Lakota name—Mahpiya Etahan hi wi—by former Standing Rock Chairman Jay Taken Alive with Standing Rock Sioux Chief Arvol Looking Horse in attendance. Thunberg's Lakota name translated into English means: "Woman Who Came From the Heavens." Tribal members say she is awakening the world and they stand by her mission.
On 11 November 2019, Glamour magazine Woman of the Year awards were presented. Accepting on behalf of Thunberg was Jane Fonda who read Thunberg's statement: "I’m incredibly honored to have received this award. . . . If a Swedish teenage science nerd who has stop shop, refuses to fly, and who has never worn makeup or been to a hairdresser can be chosen a Woman of the Year by one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world, then I think almost nothing is impossible. That is hopeful because that is what we need right now to prevent a climate catastrophe. We must do the impossible. Thank you."
On 13 November 2019, Thunberg departed North America and headed to Spain for the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25). She set sail from Hampton, VA, USA, aboard a 48-foot catamaran, La Vagabonde. When it was announced that COP25 was moving from Chile to Spain, Thunberg posted on social media that she needed a ride across the Atlantic Ocean (she refuses to fly due to the carbon emissions from air travel). Thunberg tweeted: "As #COP25 has officially been moved from Santiago to Madrid I'll need some help." "Now I need to find a way to cross the Atlantic in November … If anyone could help me find transport I would be so grateful." "Help came from Riley Whitelum, an Australian who has been sailing around the world with his wife, Elayna Caraus aboard La Vagabonde. Thunberg's departing message was the same as it has been since she began her activism: “My message to the Americans is the same as to everyone – that is to unite behind the science and to act on the science.” "We must realize this is a crisis, and we must do what we can now to spread awareness about this and to put pressure on the people in power. And especially, the US has an election coming up soon, and it's very important that for everyone who can vote, vote.”
On 3 December 2019, Thunberg arrived in Lisbon, after which she went to Madrid where she called for more "concrete action" arguing that global wave of school strikes over the previous year had “achieved nothing”.
In late 2018, Ingmar Rentzhog, who claims to be one of the first to publicise Thunberg's climate strike, asked her to become an unpaid youth advisor to his climate startup company. He then used her name and image without her knowledge or permission to raise millions for a WDHT for-profit subsidiary, We Don't Have Time AB, of which Rentzhog is the chief executive officer. Thunberg received no money from the company. She terminated her volunteer advisor role with WDHT once she realised they were making money from her name, stating "[I am] not part of any organisation… am absolutely independent… [and] do what I do completely for free."