The Swedish environmental activist has won the accolade at the age of 16. She became famous around the world in August 2018 after she missed school and sat outside Sweden’s Parliament holding a sign that said “School Strike for Climate.” She previously told the BBC: “It felt like I was the only one who cared about the climate and the ecological crisis.
Her school strike went on to inspire millions of young people around the world to take to the streets and also demand action on climate change.
Speaking about why Greta was chose, TIME Editor-in-Chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal said: “Meaningful change rarely happens without the galvanizing force of influential individuals, and in 2019, the earth’s existential crisis found one in Greta Thunberg.
“Thunberg has become the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet—and the avatar of a broader generational shift in our culture that is playing out everywhere from the campuses of Hong Kong to the halls of Congress in Washington…. this was the year the climate crisis went from behind the curtain to center stage, from ambient political noise to squarely on the world’s agenda, and no one did more to make that happen than Thunberg.
“For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads, Greta Thunberg is TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year.”
TIME also spoke to world leaders and other high profile figures about why Greta was a worthy winner.
Former US Vice President Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his decades of climate advocacy work, said: “This moment does feel different. Throughout history, many great morally-based movements have gained traction at the very moment when young people decided to make that movement their cause.”
Emmanuel Macron, President of France, added: “When you are a leader and every week you have young people demonstrating with such a message, you cannot remain neutral, ‘They helped me change.’ Leaders respond to pressure, pressure is created by movements, movements are built by thousands of people changing their minds. And sometimes, the best way to change a mind is to see the world through the eyes of a child.”
Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who served as the UN climate envoy ahead of the Paris climate talks, also said:“People would just sort of say, ‘Ah yeah, but that’s not me.’ Having children say ‘We have no future’ is far more effective. When children say something like that, adults feel very bad.”
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“The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when in fact almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR.”
Governments meeting at the talks are now under pressure to take more ambitious action to cut greenhouse gases, which continue to rise, to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Greta warned that “even at 1C people are dying from the climate crisis” and the science showed that going beyond 1.5C risks destabilising the climate and hitting irreversible tipping points such as melting glaciers and permafrost.
She said: “Finding holistic solutions is what the COP should be all about, but instead it seems to have turned some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition.
“Countries are finding clever ways around having to take real action, like double-counting emissions reductions, and moving emissions overseas, and walking back on their promises to increase ambitions, or refusing to pay for solutions or loss and damage.
“This has to stop.”
Greta was also praised by Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan, who has previously mocked her on Twitter and criticised her rhetoric when giving speeches.
He tweeted this afternoon: “Congrats Greta Thunberg on becoming TIME’s youngest ever Person of the Year.
“Whatever your view of her, and mine is decidedly mixed, she’s made a stunning impact on the climate change debate.”