By Gavin Gibbon
The world needs more help and less berating from a teenage activist - however impressive she may be
It’s hard not to be in awe of Greta Thunberg.
When I was 17-years-old I could hardly stand up in a classroom of my peers and talk without stuttering through some kind of speech or presentation.
And yet this teenage Swedish climate change activist, Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019, is currently taking the world by storm, sharing stages with leaders at global events and fronting the fight to save the planet on behalf of the next generation.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, where the main theme has been sustainability, Thunberg was part of the audience who heard US President Donald Trump deliver a keynote address where he continued to wage his war on environmentalists, with what he described as “prophets of doom,” with calls to reject “predictions of the apocalypse”. Thunberg, who has led a global movement of school strikes calling for urgent environmental action, hit back as she opened a session on “Averting a Climate Apocalypse,” where she said: “Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour, and we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else.”
Thunberg also slammed politicians and business leaders for what she said were “empty words and promises”.
Here is where I take slight exception to her rhetoric.
“Inaction”, especially in the context of the Middle East, is a very harsh assessment.
According to statistics from Middle East Energy, there are over $100 billion worth of clean energy projects in the pipeline in the region, while total investment in clean energy is expected to exceed $300bn by 2050 – Dubai alone aims to achieve 75 percent clean energy by 2050.
The UAE aims to have 50 percent of its energy produced by carbon-free sources by 2050 and Saudi is looking to install 58.7GW of renewable energy by 2030.
The UAE’s renewable energy giant Masdar oversees a presence in 25 countries with an operational capacity of five gigawatts.
Can more be done? Of course it can, a view echoed by Masdar CEO Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, when he says: “Globally everybody is trying a lot and yes there has been a lot of positive changes, but are we doing enough? Definitely I would say we should do even more.”
But what is being done is no mean feat and what has already been done cannot be grouped together into a sweeping generalization of global “inaction”. Even China, so often viewed as the environmental villain of the world, and arguably rightly so given it is responsible for more than one quarter of all global carbon emissions – more than the US and the European Union combined – is investing billions into low-carbon power generation and other clean energy technologies.
Another pressing issue is that addressing environmental issues costs money, and many poorer nations don’t have the resources necessary to tackle even the most pressing environmental problems.
It is no coincidence that, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, many of the countries doing least to protect the environment also rank among the 25 poorest countries in the world, including Burundi, Haiti, Lesotho and Eritrea.
When asked this week what, if anything, had improved in recent years, Thunberg said the climate and the environment is a “hot topic” and credited young people for pushing the agenda. But she also said “pretty much nothing has been done” since the global emissions of CO2 have not reduced.
“It will require much more than this. This is just the very beginning,” she added.
And there is the crux of the matter. The world, possibly President Trump aside, has maybe arrived late to the party when it comes to taking global warming seriously, but most have arrived. Governments, businesses and individuals have recognised that sustainability is one of the greatest challenges going forward and great work is being done.
For those who continue to ignore the consequences of climate change, maybe more help is needed, more resources, more information and advice and less berating from a teenage activist – however impressive she may be.