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Greta-effect Lausanne youth climate summit targets EU policymakers

greta thunberg consults with students in Lausanne

Greta Thunberg with other young activists in Lausanne on Monday.

(Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone)

A week-long climate summit has begun in Switzerland with the aim of launching a European citizen initiative demanding more action to reduce emissions. Influential activist Greta Thunberg is attending.

The “Smile for Future” summit in the city of Lausanne started on Monday and brings together youth activists from across Europe for workshops and discussions around the topic of tackling climate change.

More than 450 young people from 38 countries – including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who arrived by train Sunday evening – are expected to attend the week-long summit in the University of Lausanne, which will culminate in a strike on Friday afternoon.

The goal, according to organisers, is to build on the momentum from recent youth climate strikes to force politicians to set more ambitious objectives. 

During a news conference on Monday, Thunberg said,  “I think this [summit] is a great opportunity for world leaders to show that they have actually listened to us and to the science...Now they will have to prove that”.

To nudge politicians, the activists are launching a European Citizens’ Initiativeexternal link, a relatively new instrument for presenting legislative ideas to the EU Commission in Brussels.

Their initiative centres on four key demands: become carbon-neutral in the EU by 2035; impose carbon taxes on products entering Europe; refuse to sign trade agreements with countries that have not agreed to a pledge to contain global temperature rises to 1.5°C; and produce Europe-wide educational material that presents citizens with solutions to climate change.

A million signatures are needed for the initiative to land on politicians’ desks in Brussels.

Opposition

As parliamentary elections approach in Switzerland, some conservatives see the current climate movement – as well as Thunberg in particular – as politically opportunistic and fleeting.

People’s Party (right-wing) parliamentarian Roland Büchel has written that the Swedish activist is nothing more than a puppet operating according to the wishes of her father; another politician, Claudio Zanetti, tweeted about “politically correct child abuse”.

Meanwhile, the youth wing of the People’s Party – which is the biggest political group in Switzerland – has launched an online campaign under the hashtag #kretastattgreta (“Crete instead of Greta”) encouraging Swiss people to spend their holidays on the Greek island rather than spoiling them by getting sucked into the climate discussion.

In a press release timed to coincide with Thunberg’s visit to Switzerland, the youth party called the climate movement, the Lausanne summit, and Greta are all “fire hazards”.

Keystone-SDA/dos, with input from Anna Miller

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