Watch: Greta Thunberg calls for climate leaders to 'step up' after Merkel meeting

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By Alice Tidey
Climate activist Greta Thunberg as she arrives for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Aug. 20, 2020.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg as she arrives for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Aug. 20, 2020.   -   Copyright  Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP

Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg called for climate leaders to "step up" on Thursday following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Thunberg and three other youth climate activists — Germany's Luisa Neubauer and Belgians Anuna de Wever van der Heyden and Adelaide Charlier — had a 90-minute meeting with Merkel in Berlin on what was the second anniversary of Thunberg's first school strike for the climate which sparked a global movement.

The four activists handed Merkel an open letter they penned last month and which has since been signed by 125,000 people including NGOs, academics, intellectuals and artists.

In the letter, they call on leaders to immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies, halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction and establish annual, binding carbon budgets.

Speaking at a press conference after the meeting, Thunberg said: "What we want is leaders."

"We want people to step up, to dare to step out of their comfort zone, to prioritise the future instead of the now," she added, arguing: "the bigger your platform, the bigger your moral duty."

'State of climate crisis denial'

The four activists said in their letter that the global health crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that "the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, neither from politicians, media, business, nor finance."

"And the longer we keep pretending that we are on a reliable path to lower emissions and that the actions required to avoid a climate disaster are available within today's system — or for that matter that we can solve a crisis without treating it like one — the more precious time we will lose," they went on.

Ahead of the meeting in Berlin, Thunberg and three other youth climate activists warned that "the world is still in a state of climate crisis denial" in an opinion piece published in The Guardian newspaper.

They also argued that as the EU and the UK are accountable for 22% of historic accumulative global emissions, their responsibility is greater.

'Europe has to be the leader'

The EU has planned to become climate neutral by 2050 and aims to mobilise €1 trillion in public and private investments over the coming years to transition the bloc's economy to become more sustainable and digital.

According to the European Environment Agency, the bloc is on track to reach its 2020 emission reduction target of 20% from 1990 levels but will fall short of the 40% target for 2030, seen as crucial to reaching commitments made under the 2016 Paris Agreement.

The agreement aims to keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special report has warned that temperature rising about 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels would lead to dramatic consequences.

Thunberg described the demands outlined in their letter as "the very minimum that needs to be done" in order to stick to the Paris Agreement.

Charlier said the meeting with Merkel was particularly important because Germany currently holds the rotating six-month EU Council presidency.

"We want to make sure that she brings those target higher up. We asked her to go further because right now the targets where they are are not reaching the Paris Agreement," she said.

"As Europeans we are privileged, we are not facing the biggest consequences of climate change yet but people are already dying," she went on, underlining that the EU's "historical responsibility is huge and that is why Europe has to be the leader and has to go way faster."