Greta Thunberg says coronavirus shows world can 'act fast' on crises

File: Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg gives a speech during a high-level event on climate emergency hosted by the Chilean presidency during the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 at the 'IFEMA - Feria de Madrid' exhibition centre, in Madrid, on December 11, 2019.


LONDON - Climate activist Greta Thunberg said the swift and far-ranging economic and social shifts being brought in to stem the coronavirus pandemic showed that the rapid action needed to curb climate change was also possible.

Officials around the world have responded to the growing coronavirus outbreak by shutting businesses, closing schools and other facilities, banning gatherings and travel, and proposing large-scale financial bailouts to keep slowing economies afloat.

"The coronavirus is a terrible event ... there is no positive to come out of it," the Swedish teenager told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an online interview.

"But it also shows one thing: That once we are in a crisis, we can act to do something quickly, act fast," said Thunberg, 17, whose solo school strikes for climate action helped spark a global youth climate strike movement.

"Though it must be in a different way to how we have acted in this case, we can act fast and change our habits and treat a crisis like a crisis."

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COVID-19 has so far infected nearly 400,000 people globally with more than 17,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus resource centre.

The youth climate strike movement that Thunberg inspired drew millions onto the streets around the world in 2019.

This year, however, faced with the emerging pandemic, young Fridays for Future climate activists have taken their weekly actions digital, using the Twitter hashtag #ClimateStrikeOnline.

Thunberg urged young climate activists, many now stuck at home as schools close, to help others through the COVID-19 epidemic and to keep up their activism in safe ways.

"First of all, right now, we need to help in any way we can and back up society and people in need," she said.

In figuring out how to deal with climate change, "what we are telling everyone to do is to listen to the experts and listen to the science, and that's what we need to do in this case as well", she said.

The virus crisis "doesn't mean we need to let go completely of activism," she added. "We can do it online and at home. We just need to be creative and find new ways."