Greta Thunberg calls on Merkel to be ‘brave’ in climate change fight

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg on Thursday urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to be "brave" in the fight against global warming as she sought to breathe fresh life into a climate movement overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Greta Thunberg calls on Merkel to be 'brave' in climate change fight
Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) talks to climate activists Luisa Neubauer and Greta Thunberg in the chancellery. Photo: Steffen Kugler/Federal Government/DP

The 17-year-old travelled to Berlin to meet Europe's most powerful leader exactly two years since she first skipped school to demand more climate action, kicking off what would become the global Fridays for Future strikes.

Thunberg was joined by co-campaigners Luisa Neubauer from Germany and Belgium's Anuna De Wever and Adelaide Charlier, all of whom wore masks as they made their way to the chancellery from Berlin's main train station.

During 90 minutes of talks, the young campaigners said they urged Merkel to tackle carbon emissions with the same urgency and drastic measures that leaders have displayed in the battle against COVID-19.

“We want leaders…  to be brave enough to think long-term,” Thunberg told an outdoor press conference after the meeting. “We want leaders to step up and take responsibility and treat the climate crisis like a crisis.”

She said Merkel, as the current chair of the EU rotating presidency, had a “huge responsibility but also a huge opportunity” to help the European Union meet its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.

Merkel said after the talks that both sides agreed that “global warming is a global challenge which industrialised countries have a special responsibility to tackle,” her spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

The landmark meeting came as the Fridays for Future movement is trying to mobilise young people again after the coronavirus, and efforts to curb its spread, forced them to scale back their street protests in recent months

READ ALSO: Merkel hosts activist Greta Thunberg for talks on climate crisis

Protesting 'safely'

Speaking at the outdoor press conference, Neubauer said the next global day of action would take place on September 25th, both online and in the real world depending on coronavirus conditions in different countries.

The aim is “to strike safely”, Neubauer told reporters.

The 24-year-old, Germany's most prominent climate activist, said governments were not taking the climate emergency “nearly as seriously” as the pandemic.

Belgian activist De Wever said the pandemic should be seized as a chance “to do things differently”.

The European Union has pledged billions of euros in state aid to cushion the economic blow from the virus, she noted.

But they “are still investing it in an economy that inherently fuels the climate crisis” instead of investing “in a sustainable future”.

The four campaigners wrote an open letter to Merkel and other leaders on Wednesday in which they called for an immediate halt to fossil fuel investments.

Greta Thunberg on Thursday. Photo: DPA

They also decried two years lost to “political inaction” despite lofty promises by European governments.

Merkel herself, a former environment minister, has repeatedly expressed admiration for the masses of young people who have taken to the streets for Fridays for Future.

READ ALSO: 10 German words you need to know to engage in the climate debate

But despite Germany's green reputation, her country is struggling to meet its climate targets and remains heavily reliant on coal because of its decision to phase out nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Europe's top economy was widely expected to miss its goal of reducing climate-heating greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent this year compared with 1990 levels.

But a government report on Wednesday said the coronavirus could unexpectedly help it meet the target after all, after the pandemic wrecked economic activity and lowered demand for polluting coal.

Germany has promised to abandon coal-generated power by 2038, a date considered far too late by environmentalists.

The European Union as a whole aims to achieve carbon neutrality — or net zero greenhouse emissions — by 2050.

But Thunberg said the pledge falls far short of what needs to be done and is “not consistent” with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which calls for the rise in temperatures to be capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius this century compared with pre-industrial levels.

By Marion Payet with Michelle Fitzpatrick in Frankfurt

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.