MICHAEL CAMPANELLA/Getty Images and REUTERS/Kate Munsch
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old activist from Sweden, has become the face of the youth climate movement.
In the summer of 2018, Thunberg started sitting outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. On September 20, 2019, Thunberg led the largest climate strike in history, which included an estimated 4 million people across 161 countries.
Thunberg has addressed the United Nations, US Congress, and UK Parliament.
On Wednesday, Time magazine named Thunberg the 2019 person of the year.
Here's how she rose to prominence on the world stage.
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has been named Time magazine's 2019 person of the year.
Thunberg "has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change," Time wrote.
The scale of that movement was especially apparent this fall, when an estimated 4 million people in 161 countries took to the streets on September 20 — the largest climate demonstration in history.
Following that global strike, Thunberg gave an impassioned, tearful speech to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit.
"This is all wrong. I shouldn't be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean," she said with tears in her eyes. "Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words."
Thunberg launched the "Fridays For Future" movement — or School Strike for Climate (as it says in Swedish on her now-famous sign) — in 2018, encouraging students to skip school to demand action on climate change from their governments. In November of that year, when she was in ninth grade, Thunberg staged a strike for two weeks outside the Swedish parliament, demanding that the government cut emissions by 15% a year.
Thunberg still spends every Friday on strike. She has met with countless world leaders in her quest to raise awareness about and action to address our changing climate.
Here's how Thunberg rose to prominence as the face of a new movement.
"She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those who are not," Time magazine wrote of Thunberg.
Time's other finalists for the annual title were Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, President Donald Trump, the whistleblower that revealed Trump's dealings with Ukraine, and the Hong Kong protesters.
Thunberg has been thinking about climate change — and the lack of action to curb it — since age 8. She has said she didn't understand why adults weren't working to mitigate its effects.
By age 11, Thunberg said, she became depressed by the seemingly impossible task of saving the planet.
In May 2018, Thunberg won a climate-change essay competition for the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. That was the genesis of her activism career. She started the School Strike for Climate effort three months later, and launched her first protest three months after that.
Thunberg partially credits her Asperger's syndrome for her fierce activist nature.
Paul Zinken/dpa via AP
In an interview with BBC journalist Nick Robinson, Thunberg said that "being different is a gift."
If she didn't have Asperger's, Thunberg added, she wouldn't have become such a passionate climate activist. Thunberg has also tweeted about her condition, saying that Asperger's is a "superpower."
In December 2018, Thunberg spoke at the United Nations climate change conference in Katowice, Poland.
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"This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced," she told UN secretary general António Guterres before that conference started. "First we have to realize this and then as fast as possible do something to stop the emissions and try to save what we can save."
Three months later, on March 15, 2019, Thunberg led more than 1 million students around the world as they walked out of Friday classes to protest inaction on climate change.
Thunberg spoke at the Stockholm demonstration during that global event. "We have only been born into this world. We are going to have to live with this crisis our whole lives," she said.
Jonathan Nackstrand/Getty Images
"We are not going to accept this. We are striking because we want a future and we are going to carry on," Thunberg added, according to Reuters.
Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in March.
She "has launched a mass movement, which I see as a major contribution to peace," Norwegian MP Freddy André Øvstegård told the Guardian. "We have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change it will be the cause of wars, conflict, and refugees."
In the end, the award went to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who brokered peace between his nation and Eritrea.
In April, Thunberg spoke with Pope Francis during the weekly general audience at the Vatican.
The Pope has made it clear that he strongly supports action to curb climate change.
"Thank you for standing up for the climate and speaking the truth. It means a lot," Thunberg told him.
"God bless you, continue to work, continue. Go along, go ahead," he responded.
A week after that, Thunberg told UK parliament leaders: "Many of you appear concerned that we are wasting valuable lesson time, but I assure you we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future."
Leon Neal/Getty Images
Thunberg has also met with UN leaders on numerous occasions and visited the French parliament.
Because air travel has a heavy carbon footprint, Thunberg refuses to fly. In Europe, she typically travels by train. But getting to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York in September posed a new challenge.
A single round-trip flight between New York and California generates roughly 20% of the greenhouse gases your car emits in a year.
Thunberg enlisted the help of Boris Herrmann, who captains a schooner called Malizia II. The ship runs on solar power and underwater turbines (in addition to wind, of course), thereby emitting no carbon.
Courtesy of Malizia II media
She completed the 13-day, cross-Atlantic journey with her father Svante, professional sailors Boris Herrmann and Pierre Casiraghi, and filmmaker Nathan Grossman.
While in the US, Thunberg sat down with Barack Obama.
The two met at the headquarters of the Obama Foundation on September 17.
"My message to young people who want to have an impact on the world is to be creative," Thunberg said in a video of the meeting shared by the Obama Foundation. "There's so incredibly much you can do and do not underestimate yourself."
"Just 16, @GretaThunberg is already one of our planet's greatest advocates," Obama tweeted after their meeting.
She also met with US lawmakers to discuss climate-change policies. Instead of a prepared speech, Thunberg simply submitted a 2018 UN climate report.
Alastair Pike/Getty Images
Thunberg's remarks at the hearing lasted less than one minute.
"I don't want you to listen to me," she said. "I want you to listen to the scientists."
On September 20, Thunberg led a worldwide climate strike that included 4 million people across 161 countries.
Adults joined the ranks of young protesters in most major cities around the world. It was the biggest climate-change protest in history.
"We showed that we are united and we young people are unstoppable," Thunberg said the following day.
Her most fiery speech to date came at the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23. "For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight," she said.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has urged UN member nations to put forward concrete plans to update their emissions-reduction goals by the 2020 deadline set in the Paris climate agreement. Summit organizers also encouraged countries to set goals to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and Guterres has called for an end to coal use after 2020.
With tears in her eyes, Thunberg chastised world leaders: "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words."
"You all come to me for hope? How dare you!" she added.
After her speech, Thunberg joined 15 other young people from around the world to file a legal complaint alleging that five countries' inaction on global warming violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The complaint was filed against Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey.
The UN treaty is 30 years old; children have been able to file legal complaints to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child since 2014.
Thunberg spent the next couple of months traveling throughout the US and Canada, meeting climate activists and environmental protesters.
Thunberg had originally planned to travel to Santiago, Chile via trains and buses to attend the COP25 climate conference in December, but the event was moved at the last minute to Madrid, Spain.
So Thunberg hitched an impromptu cross-Atlantic ride with an Australian couple, their 11-month-old son, and a professional sailor.
Courtesy of Twitter @GretaThunberg/Social Media via REUTERS
The boat arrived in Lisbon, Portugal on December 3, and Thunberg made it to Madrid on December 6, just in time for her speaking commitments at COP25.
On December 11, Thunberg addressed climate scientists in Madrid. "I am telling you there is hope. I have seen it. But it does not come from governments or corporations. It comes from the people," she said.
Thunberg added: "We do not have to wait. We can start the change right now. We the people."
Ivan De Luce contributed to a previous version of this story.
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