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Greta Thunberg: Davos leaders ignored climate activists' demands

Graeme Wearden in Davos
Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

Greta Thunberg has criticised world and business leaders for ignoring calls to break away from fossil fuels, as young people protested in Davos over the climate emergency.

Speaking on the final day of the World Economic Forum, the 17-year old climate campaigner said leaders were not reacting to the crisis, and were not being held accountable for their inaction.

“Before we came here we had a few demands for this WEF and of course those demands have been completely ignored, but we expected nothing less,” said Thunberg, speaking before marching through Davos with fellow climate activists.

“As long as the science is ignored, and the facts aren’t taken into account, and the situation is not treated as a crisis, then world and business leaders can of course continue to ignore the situation,” she said.

Thunberg, who appeared on two panels at the forum, has called for an immediate end to investments in fossil fuel exploration, fossil fuel subsidies and for investors to ditch fossil fuel assets. But while many delegates spoke about the importance of climate issues, actual action was harder to find.

Related: Greta Thunberg tells world leaders to end fossil fuel ‘madness’

Luisa Neubauer, a 23-year-old German climate activist, said she had met the chief executive of Siemens, Joe Kaeser, at Davos this week to press him to abandon a contract to supply rail signalling to a mine in Australia.

The Adani project would be one of the world’s largest coalmines, and Neubauer said such fossil fuel activity needed to be curbed by companies and investors. Otherwise the Paris agreement’s goal of keeping global heating to 2C this year could not be met, she said.


Davos is a Swiss ski resort now more famous for hosting the annual four-day conference for the World Economic Forum. For participants it is a festival of networking. Getting an invitation is a sign you have made it – and the elaborate system of badges reveals your place in the Davos hierarchy. The meeting is sponsored by a huge number of international banks and corporations.

For critics, “Davos man” is shorthand for the globe-trotting elite, disconnected from their home countries after spending too much time in the club-class lounge. Others just wonder if it is all a big waste of time. 

The 2020 meeting is being advertised as focusing on seven themes: Fairer economies, better business, healthy futures, future of work, tech for good, beyond geopolitics and how to save the planet. Young climate activists and school strikers from around the world will be present at the event to put pressure on world leaders over that last theme


“If you add up all the contracts that have been signed by today on fossil fuel projects, we will be far beyond 2C,” said Neubauer. “Some of those contracts, if not all of them, will have to be cancelled if we want to actually do something about Paris.

“This is not a radical demand, this is a rational demand,” she added.

On Thursday, the US Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said climate activists should recognise the impact of fossil fuel divestment on jobs, and said Thunberg should go study economics before offering advice.

Thunberg said such barbs, like Donald Trump’s criticism, had no effect on her.

“We are being criticised like that all the time. If we cared about that, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” she said, before leading a Fridays for Future protest in the ski resort.

Some climate actions were announced at Davos, including a push to plant 1tn trees, which Donald Trump backed.

Thunberg warned earlier this week that planting trees was not enough to tackle the climate crisis. But Micah White, the co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street movement, said the trillion tree campaign would work as a Trojan horse to help mobilise people to fight the climate emergency.

“I love the trillion tree campaign, because hundreds of millions of people will need to be mobilised at the grass roots,” he said on the sidelines of WEF. “To actually mobilise that number of people, and plant that number of trees, will be such a systemic disruption of our day-to-day lives that it will be revolutionary.”

White said corporations would have to tell staff, “You don’t have to come into work this week, we’re all planting trees”, and governments will have to deposit trees in all the schools, to actually carry out the plan.