Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, age 20 and arguably the face of a generation that wants to roll back decades of reliance on oil and gas by means of alternative energy sources, had a message Thursday as she mingled with the corporate and political bigwigs meeting in Davos, Switzerland: Stop listening to the companies responsible for “fueling the destruction of the planet.”

Backing these interests only gives more power to those who are culpable in the climate crisis, by investing in fossil fuels and prioritizing short-term profits over people and broader economic growth, she said.

Thunberg was joined by prominent young activists Vanessa Nakate, Helena Gualinga and Luisa Neubauer in a roundtable with International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol at the World Economic Forum.

Stop listening to the companies responsible for ‘fueling the destruction of the planet.’

— Greta Thunberg

Thunberg spoke first, saying it is “absurd” that in Davos, so many are turning to the people who are mainly causing the climate crisis to fix it, rather than to those on the front lines who are suffering from the drought, heat and more frequent extreme weather that costs livelihoods as well as lives.

We seem to rely on these people to resolve our problems, Thunberg says, even though they have shown they are prioritizing short-term “greed.”

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Thunberg urged Birol to stop the global energy industry and the banks that support it from financing new carbon-intensive investments such as those in coal, oil and gas. In 2021, the IEA under Birol did take a tougher stance on emissions and exploration for new fossil-fuel
sources, a position that surprised the industry.

Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates announced its decision to appoint the CEO of a state-run oil company to preside over 2023 U.N. climate negotiations in Dubai. It was a move that U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said he backs, citing Sultan al-Jaber’s work on renewable energy projects.

Kerry, the former U.S. secretary of state, told the Associated Press that the Emirates and other countries that rely on fossil fuels to fund their governments will need to find “some balance” ahead.

However, he dismissed the idea that because Sultan al-Jaber heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., his appointment should be automatically disqualified. Activists, however, equated the appointment to asking “arms dealers to lead peace talks.” 

Others have said the infrastructure already in place from Big Oil, and the capital it has to invest in carbon capture and other technologies, can deliver the scale a climate-change fix requires.

Thunberg and many of her generation aren’t convinced.

“As long as they can get away with it, they will continue to invest in fossil fuels, they will continue to throw people under the bus,” Thunberg warned Thursday.

Instead, she said, climate policy makers should listen more closely to those who are actually affected by the climate crisis, particularly people living in the Southern Hemisphere and in developing nations — places that tend to be exploited for the resources that run modern society and bear the brunt of its pollution.

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Earlier this week, police in western Germany carried Thunberg and other protesters away from the edge of an open-pit coal mine, where they had been demonstrating against the ongoing demolition of a village to make way for the mine’s expansion, German news agency dpa reported.

Thunberg was among hundreds of people who resumed antimining protests at multiple locations in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The German government reached a deal with energy company RWE
last year allowing it to demolish the village in return for ending coal use by 2030 rather than 2038, as had originally been planned.

Both the government and RWE argue the coal is needed to ensure Germany’s energy security, which is being affected by the cut in supply of Russian gas
due to the war in Ukraine.

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The Associated Press contributed.