Hours after judges passed her up for the Nobel Peace Prize, Greta Thunberg stood before a cheering throng, insisting once again that something must be done about climate change – and fast.
‘We as young people are tired of constantly being betrayed by those who are supposed to work for our greater good,’ the 16-year-old Swedish activist told hundreds of supporters gathered in an outdoor ampitheater in Colorado’s largest city, Denver.
‘We are here because we care about the future, about what we one day will leave after us,’ Thunberg, clad in a cream-colored jacket with her hair in her trademark braid, said to thunderous applause.
‘But the political leaders can’t seem to think beyond the next election, and that needs to come to an end.’
Swedish environment activist Greta Thunberg speaks during a ‘FridaysForFuture’ climate protest at Civic Center Park in Denver, Colorado, on Friday
Demonstrators gather for a ‘FridaysForFuture’ climate protest at Civic Center Park in Denver, Colorado, on Friday
Calls to action, condemnation of politicians and appeals to youth are all familiar rhetoric for Thunberg, whose activism against what some view as humanity’s most pressing problem made her an apparent frontrunner for the Peace Prize.
Earlier on Friday, the Norwegian judges instead selected Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for the award, citing his efforts to end two decades of conflict with Eritrea.
A world away, Thunberg responded with a succinct ‘no’ when asked by AFP if not winning had disappointed her.
‘Yeah, I’m very focused. This day was amazing,’ she said.
Students across the world began emulating Greta Thunberg’s academic disobedience campaign, leading to organized school walkouts and the rise of the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement
Thunberg’s stop in Colorado came amid a highly publicized journey from her hometown of Stockholm in which she traversed the Atlantic on a zero-emission sailboat before making an appearance at a United Nations climate summit.
‘How dare you?’ she thundered at world leaders gathered in New York, accusing them of handing younger generations a world of rising seas and increasingly severe weather.
That refrain – emphatically repeated by Thunberg in her UN speech – could be seen on several cardboard signs carried by crowd members in Denver.
‘She helped voice the opinions that I didn’t know how to word. She said everything that I’d been thinking,’ said Dante Lanthier, 16, one of many high school students who attended the event.
Students have been among the most receptive of audiences for Thunberg, who first rose to prominence in August 2018 when she started skipping school to sit outside the Swedish parliament with her ‘School Strike for the Climate’ sign, to criticize government inaction on climate change.
Students across the world then began emulating her academic disobedience, leading to organized school walkouts and the rise of the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement, which organized the event in Denver.
‘When you’re younger, you can’t vote, you can’t see the way to make changes,’ said Molly Ring, 18, a high schooler who recently participated in her first climate strike.
‘Having her… is really inspiring.’
Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate change activist, addressed supporters in Denver hours after losing a Nobel Peace Prize bid to Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed
Ahmed was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts with Eritrea
Thunberg, who is heading by electric vehicle to Santiago, Chile in time for another UN climate conference in December, arrived in Denver on a day so cold that local media reported it broke a record set in 1946.
Hundreds of miles away, wildfires tore through southern California, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate.
Both are seen as symptomatic of the climate disaster Thunberg warns against.
‘With hotter summers, and earlier, colder winters, we need this message,’ 74-year-old Kate Hilsenbeck said of Thunberg’s activism, as she waited for the young Swede to appear.
Thunberg has already won Amnesty International’s top human rights prize and the Swedish Right Livelihood Award, often presented as an alternative Nobel.
She’s also earned adoration from fans, some of whom shouted ‘we love you, Greta!’ as she left the venue following a speech that lasted just under 10 minutes.
That a Nobel Prize had eluded Thunberg this year seemed to worry her audience little.
‘I think she’s got lots of years to win all the prizes,’ said Denver resident Laurence Larrick, 67. ‘I don’t think she has to worry about that.’
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, (second left) and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ( center) hold hands as they wave at the crowds in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa in July last year. Ethiopia and Eritrea were longtime foes who fought a border war from 1998 to 2000 before restoring relations in July 2018
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (left) with Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki at a ceremony marking the reopening of the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in July 2018. Mr Ahmed has in October 2019 been awarded the prize for his efforts to ‘achieve peace and international cooperation’ in particular with neighboring Eritrea
The schoolgirl, who went from anonymity in her native Sweden to leader of a global movement in little more than a year, was picked as the bookmakers’ favorite for this year’s prize.
The 16-year-old activist has been credited for driving a global movement in the fight against climate change.
However, the Norwegian Nobel Committee chose Ahmed, who at 43 is the youngest leader in Africa, to join the list of previous prize winners, such as Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Abiy today said he was ‘so humbled and thrilled’ by the award, adding: ‘It is a prize given to Africa, given to Ethiopia, and I can imagine how the rest of Africa’s leaders will take it positively to work on peace building process in our continent.
‘I am so happy and I am so thrilled for the news … Thank you very much, it is a big recognition.’
The committee cited his efforts to make peace with Eritrea, and foster stability in the wider regions of east and north east Africa as a key reason.
‘Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea,’ the committee said in a statement announcing its decision.
Ethiopia and Eritrea, longtime foes who fought a border war from 1998 to 2000, restored relations in July 2018 after years of hostility – mere months after the 43-year-old became prime minister.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee went on to describe in detail what the Ethiopian leader had achieved in his first 100 days in power.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has hailed his being awarded the prize as a testimony to the efforts to reform the country and seek peace with Eritrea
It said, in less than six months he had lifted the country’s state of emergency, granted amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinued media censorship, legalized opposition groups, dismissed corrupt leaders and worked to ‘significantly’ increase the influence of women in Ethiopian political and community life and pledged to strengthen democracy by holding free and fair elections.
The Nobel Committee said from the start the Prime Minister had made his intentions for peace clear on his agenda.
‘In close cooperation with Isaias Afwerki, the President of Eritrea, Abiy Ahmed quickly worked out the principles of a peace agreement to end the long ‘no peace, no war’ stalemate between the two countries,’ it said.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gestures after receiving a horse as a gift from the elders of the Kafficho ethnic group during a visit to Bonga, the main town in Kaffa province, in south western Ethiopia. The 43-year-old has come a long way rising through the ranks from his humble beginnings to a now celebrated world leader
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is seen earlier this year meeting Pope Francis in the Vatican City
‘An important premise for the breakthrough was Abiy Ahmed’s unconditional willingness to accept the arbitration ruling of an international boundary commission in 2002.’
In its statement the committee said the prize was also meant to recognize all who were working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions.
‘Peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone. When Prime Minister Abiy reached out his hand, President Afwerki grasped it, and helped to formalize the peace process between the two countries.’
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it hoped the peace agreement would help to bring about positive change for the entire populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea.’
It acknowledged that some may question how the prize could be given to a leader who had only been in power for a year and in a country where ethnic tensions continued.
‘Ethnic strife continues to escalate, and we have seen troubling examples of this in recent weeks and months. No doubt some people will think this year’s prize is being awarded too early,’ it said.
But, the committee went on to say it believes ‘ it is now that Abiy Ahmed’s efforts deserve recognition and need encouragement.’