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Theresa May fails to attend meeting with Greta Thunberg


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In the wake of Extinction Rebellion protesters taking to the streets of London, the name on everyone’s lips is Greta Thunberg.

But despite making waves with her parliament speech during her visit to the UK, the 16-year-old Swedish activist has seemingly failed to capture the attention of the prime minister.

Theresa May

Image Credit: Middle East Monitor from Arno Mikkor on Flickr

The meeting between Greta Thunberg and party leaders in Westminster on Tuesday saw Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, the Lib Dem’s Sir Vince Cable, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Scottish National Party’s Ian Blackford and Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts meet with the young environmental activist. Despite being sent an invitation, the organisers said that they received no response from Theresa May, who was instead chairing a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street. May’s official spokesman said he was “not aware” of any such request.

Last July, May announced a bill to protect the environment, promising to leave the world in a better state over the next 25 years. In January 2019, she spoke of the intrinsic and extrinsic value of our natural environment in a speech at the Wetlands Centre, crediting it for bringing in tourism and stating that "now is the right time to put the question of how we protect and enhance our natural environment centre-stage".
Despite this announcement, the climate crisis has been placed on the back-burner over Brexit troubles over the last year.

Theresa May's history when it comes to action against climate change is chequered. According to The Independent, in July 2016, she announced the "decision to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change". Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, who was present at the talks with Thunberg on Tuesday, resonded to the announcement, saying it was "deeply worrying".

Greta Thunberg

Image Credit: Greta Thunberg, via Common Dreams

The Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement has remained dissatisfied with the UK government’s action on climate change. The group's stated aim is to bring about radical change in order to minimise the risk of ecological collapse and human extinction, through the means of non-violent civil disobedience. They have set out three demands for the UK government. Firstly, XR demand that the government be truthful about climate change by calling for an 'emergency' and spreading the word of the 'urgency' of environmental reform. The group have also demanded the government to 'act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025'. Finally, the government has been called upon to 'create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice'.

More recently, however, members of the Conservative Party have expressed discontentment with Extinction Rebellion protestors. In an article for the Telegraph, Boris Johnson urged the group to target China instead, who “now produce more Co2 than the EU and US combined,” calling the protestors “smug, irritating and disruptive” in spite of his agreement with their aims. Secretary of State for Environment, Michael Gove, told protestors that “we’ve got the message” on 17th April.

However, Thunberg does seem to have commanded some positive attention to the cause of environmental damage within the walls of Westminster. In a powerful speech to parliament, she called the UK’s approach to energy “absurd” and singled out the country for its “mind-blowing historical carbon debt”. In one of the most powerful parts of her speech, she stated that “the basic problem is that basically nothing is being done to halt – or even slow – climate and ecological breakdown, despite all the beautiful words and promises.” The events of the last couple of weeks may have finally been the wake-up call the government needed to look up at the urgency of climate change, with Thunberg’s speech leading Gove to admit his feelings of “responsibility and guilt” while ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband said Thunberg had “woken us up.”

It is unclear what the meeting between Thunberg and the party leaders will amount to, but the pressure is doubtlessly on for the government to make marked steps towards environmental change.

Lead Image: World Economic Forum on Flickr


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