Greta Thunberg, the teenage environmental activist who started a global movement for change, on Monday used her celebrity status to draw attention to other young campaigners at the United Nations climate summit taking place in Madrid.
The Swedish activist, who arrived in the Spanish capital last Friday to great expectation, had expressed frustration at the fact that media attention is focused on her rather than on the many other people working for action against global warming.
On Friday Thunberg was forced to leave a street march early due to security concerns, and she asked the media to “not listen to me before anyone else. I am a small part of a very big movement.”
On Monday, the 16-year-old shared a stage at the COP25 summit with youths from Chile, Russia, the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, Uganda and a Native American reservation in the United States. It was they who took center stage at the event, after Thunberg made a few opening remarks.
“We believe it is our moral responsibility to use this attention to give a voice to those who need to tell their stories. The climate emergency is not a future problem, it is something that is already affecting us, people are suffering and dying from it today.”
The 16-year-old arrived in Madrid last Friday on a train from Lisbon, drawing camera crews to Chamartín station. She was briefly seen at the COP25 international climate summit, where she also spoke this morning. The global conference ends on Friday.
Thunberg later spoke to the media in the company of other young activists at La Casa Encendida, where no fewer than 420 reporters were on hand to listen to her. Journalists addressed most of the questions to Thunberg, drawing a response from the Swedish activist: “They shouldn’t listen to me before anyone else. I am a small part of a very big movement.”
Thunberg later participated in a climate march that attracted 15,000 people according to the local police, and between 25,000 and 35,000 according to this newspaper’s estimates. Two youths were arrested and six police officers sustained injuries at a march that featured Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who called Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida “stupid” for his positions on climate change. The actor has since apologized, saying that personal insults are not constructive.
Meanwhile, the main star of the evening, Thunberg herself, was forced to leave early for security reasons, and activists from her Fridays for Future movement said she didn’t like the fact that she was barely able to walk from La Casa Encendida to the demonstration in the first place because of all the people standing in her way, and cellphones pointed at her.
On Sunday, Thunberg managed to briefly avoid the press and showed up at Madrid’s Complutense University wearing a blue hoodie that covered her face. Walking into a classroom normally used for Spanish language lessons, the young woman met for a little over an hour with other activists, as well as her father and her press manager, to prepare the agenda for this week, when the COP25 summit will draw to a close.
Thunberg chose the university campus because it is the meeting place for hundreds of groups working on environmental issues, and it is informally referred to as the headquarters of the “counter-summit.” It was here that the young campaigner reportedly said that she wants a secondary role at the two events where she is scheduled to participate this week. One is on Monday, when she will join German politician Luisa Neuebauer and other young activists at the COP25 summit. The other one is set for Wednesday, when Thunberg and US actor Harrison Ford will meet with representatives of the climate movement from Chile and Spain.
“I don’t want to be the only voice of youth at the summit,” she said, according to people who were present on Sunday. At that point, word had already spread that Thunberg was in the room, and reporters had started to show up.
“It’s absurd. I don’t like to be the center of attention all the time, but it’s a positive thing,” she told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet on Friday. “As long as the press writes about me, they are also writing about the climate crisis.”