The UN climate forum tasked with saving the world from runaway global warming has become an “opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition” to act on climate, the 16-year-old told delegates.
“Countries are finding clever ways around having to take real action,” she said.
Nations are gathered in Spain's capital to finalize the rule book of the 2015 landmark Paris climate accord, which aims to limit global temperature rises to “well below” two degrees Celsius and to a safer cap of 1.5C if possible.
A number of sticking points remain even as the two-week marathon negotiations enter the final days. Nations are at odds over how the fight against climate change should be funded and how carbon trading schemes should be regulated.
In addition, there has been preciously little progress over the issue of “loss and damage” funding — how countries already dealing with the worst impacts of climate-related extreme weather and drought should be compensated.
The UN's top climate body the IPCC says that the safest way to hit the 1.5C target is a rapid and sweeping drawdown in the coal, oil and gas driving greenhouse gas emissions.
Thunberg, who started her one-girl climate strike in her native Sweden a year ago but has since been catapulted to international stardom, told negotiators that their promises were a world apart from what was needed.
“Recently a handful of rich countries pledged to reduce their emission of greenhouse gases by so and so many percent by this or that date, or to become climate neutral or net zero in so and so many years,” she said.
“This may sound impressive at first glance, but even though the intentions may be good this is not leadership. This is not leading, this is misleading.”
After Thunberg finished her address, dozens of youth activists from around the world stormed the plenary stage, demanding that delegates act now to cut´emissions.
UN chief Antonio Guterres on Wednesday appealed to industry to “shift into a high gear” by greening their businesses and dragging carbon emissions down.
“While we see some incremental steps towards sustainable business models, it is nowhere near the scope or scale required,” he said.
“What we need is not an incremental approach, but a transformational one.” The UN says emissions must drop 7.6 percent globally every year to 2030 to stay on track for a 1.5C world.
At little over 1C of warming since the industrial period started, the planet in 2019 was shook by a string of deadly wildfires, super storms and floods made more intense by the changing climate.
Despite dozens of meetings and thousands of specialists working to implement the Paris accord, global emissions have increased by four percent in the years since the deal was signed.
By Patrick Galey/AFP