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Greta Thunberg's Davos message 'should be a real wake-up call,' former Obama official says

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

Swedish environmental activist and TIME Person of the Year Greta Thunberg drew attention after delivering remarks at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. The 17-year-old criticized the leaders present for their lack of action on combating climate change. 

“Our house is still on fire,” Thunberg said. “Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour. And we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else.” 

Although President Trump referred to her as a “prophet of doom,” Thunberg drew praise from Rajiv Shah, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation and former administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Obama administration. 

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg addresses guests at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Photo: AP Photo/Michael Probst)

“The reality is that a lot of the efforts and announcements that are made here and elsewhere, while well-intentioned and sometimes inspiring, are often just not ambitious enough or real enough to actually protect our planet and secure life for future generations,” Shah told Yahoo Finance at Davos.

He continued: “And to have an articulate, courageous, brave 17-year-old leader stand up and say, ‘I appreciate you’re all here. I appreciate you’re all talking about this stuff, but guess what. You’re not going to meet the 1.5 degree target. You’re not meeting your Paris commitments. Countries are not submitting plans that are consistent with those targets and aspirations after agreeing to them just a few years ago. And that’s not good enough.’ I think that should be a real wake-up call to everyone involved that we have to be doing much, much more.” 

‘You probably have to buckle down and be much more serious’

Rajiv Shah praised Greta Thunberg for her activism. (Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Climate change has been a big topic at the meeting. Many business leaders have pledged to take action, but both Thunberg and Shah have said that it’s not enough. According to a study from the World Economic Forum, 67 countries have pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Yet, only seven of those countries are actually on a path to reaching that goal. 

“The fact that the USA is leaving the Paris Accord seems to outrage and worry everyone, and it should,” Thunberg said at the meeting. “But the fact that we’re all about to fail the commitments you signed up for in the Paris Agreement doesn’t seem to bother the people in power even the least.” 

While Shah diverged from Thunberg slightly in that he thinks some progress has been made, he still echoed an overall similar sentiment. 

“Frankly, if you’re in the corporate leadership sector or the finance sector, you probably have to buckle down and be much more serious about protecting the planet and creating a more inclusive capitalism,” he said. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Thunberg won the Nobel Prize. The error has been corrected.

Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at adriana@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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