Greta Thunberg's Open Letter to Leaders Tells Them to 'Tear up Contracts'

It's time for governments to treat the climate crisis like a real crisis.

Greta Thunberg at last rally before lockdown
Greta Thunberg gives a speech at a "Fridays for Future" rally in Belgium on March 6, 2020.

Thierry Monasse / Getty Images

Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish climate activist whose Fridays for Future protests made her a household name in 2019, is back in the spotlight. Together with several other prominent young activists, she has written a scathing open letter to government leaders, calling on them to take real action on climate change as they reopen post-pandemic economies.

The letter states, in Thunberg's typical passionate fashion, that it's apparent the climate crisis has "never once been treated as a crisis" by people in positions of power and that the delay only worsens the situation. 

"The longer we keep pretending that we are on a reliable path to lower emissions and that the actions required to avoid a climate disaster are available within today’s system – or for that matter that we can solve a crisis without treating it like one – the more precious time we will lose."

The letter goes on to say that "even a child can see that the climate and ecological crisis cannot be solved within today’s system" and that "aiming to ‘recover’ an economic system that inherently fuels the climate crisis in order to finance climate action is just as absurd as it sounds."

Thunberg writes that it's time to "tear up contracts and abandon existing deals and agreements on a scale that we can't even begin to imagine today," because if not, the planet that subsequent generations inherit will be in even worse shape. And those people – our children and their children – will have no choice but to deal with it, unlike the current generation of leaders that has "given up without even trying." 

The letter has been signed by 320 scientists (at the time of this article's publishing) and over 50,000 individuals in 50 countries. It's a star-studded list of signatories, including Malala Yousafzai, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margaret Atwood, Russel Crowe, Coldplay, Naomi Klein, Susan Sarandon, David Suzuki, Jane Fonda, Stella McCartney, Bianca Jagger, Shawn Mendes, Emma Thompson, and many more. You can add your signature to it here.

The letter's core message is echoed by the World Economic Forum, which recently stated that a nature-centric approach to economic recovery could create 400 million jobs and $10 trillion in business value each year by 2030. The WEF published a report in mid-July that, like Thunberg, urged governments not to return to business-as-usual, but to reimagine and rebuild economies in a way that mitigates damage to the natural world. Akanksha Khatri, head of WEF’s Nature Action Agenda, was quoted in the Guardian: 

"Nature can provide the jobs our economies need. There is nothing stopping businesses and governments from implementing these plans today, at scale, to re-employ millions."

Relatedly, the United Nations has warned against governments solely treating the symptoms of coronavirus, not the root cause, which is environmental destruction. If such rampant destruction continues, "a steady stream of diseases can be expected to jump from animals to humans in coming years." 

The letter lists some radical demands for change. These include adding "ecocide" (causing environmental harm) to the International Criminal Court; halting all further fossil fuel exploration and extraction immediately; and creating binding annual carbon budgets to keep planetary warming below 1.5C.

Sound difficult? It is, and Thunberg knows it. "Doing your best is no longer good enough. You must now do the seemingly impossible."

Read the full letter here.