Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is the favorite to win the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize after she rose to lead a millions-strong youth movement demanding action on global warming. The 16-year-old is tipped to become the youngest ever recipient of the award, which will be announced next week and has previously been won by major figures such as Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Thunberg was born in Sweden to her mother Malenda Ernman, an opera singer who represented Sweden in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, and father Svante Thunberg, an actor. Thunberg herself first learned about global warming at the age of 8, when her class was shown documentaries about climate change at school. At school, she was always the one to be sat quietly at the back of the classroom, but she remembers being more affected than the other student
She launched the "Fridays For Future" movement — or School Strike for Climate (as it says in Swedish on her sign) — in 2018, encouraging students to skip school to demand action on climate change from their governments. In November, when she was a ninth-grader, Thunberg staged a strike for two weeks outside the Swedish parliament, demanding that the government cut emissions by 15% a year. More than 17,000 students in 24 countries took part in Friday school strikes. Thunberg then began speaking at high-profile events across Europe, including U.N. climate talks in Poland.
In the 12 months since she has become one of the world’s most talked-about people. On August 14, 2019, Thunberg set sail from Britain for the United States to take part in a U.N. climate summit. Meanwhile, the total number of climate strikers reached 3.6 million people across 169 countries. Thunberg delivered a blistering speech to leaders at the U.N. summit,
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said.
“And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.”
Since being thrust into the global limelight, Thunberg’s climate activism has attracted scorn as well as praise. Some right-wing critics have, with little evidence, denounced her as a liar or a hypocrite. Others have highlighted her Asperger’s diagnosis four years ago and suggested she is being manipulated by her parents. "Being different is a gift," she told the BBC, "It makes me see things from outside the box. I don't easily fall for lies, I can see through things. If I would've been like everyone else, I wouldn't have started this school strike for instance."
Donald Trump this week doubled down on his criticism of outspoken climate activists by retweeting one of his supporters who branded the teen an actress. Trump's retweet came after he had earlier mocked the Swede following her tearful appearance at the United Nations Climate Summit by calling her a "very happy young girl". She responded by updating her Twitter bio to read: "A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future."
Thunberg has repeatedly hit back at her critics, denying she is paid for her activism or is being “used” by anyone. Earlier this year she wrote on Facebook to say “there is no one ‘behind’ me except for myself. My parents were as far from climate activists as possible before I made them aware of the situation”. In August, she hit back at “hate and conspiracy campaigns” after by conservative Australian commentator Andrew Bolt described her as a “deeply disturbed messiah”.