MANHATTAN (CN) – Climate activist Greta Thunberg is no longer merely a voice in the fight for action on climate change. She is also a litigant.
On the heels of a massive climate strike by students worldwide, Thunberg and 15 other young activists from a dozen countries filed a petition Monday with the United Nations, seeking immediate binding action to limit global warming.
“The climate crisis is a children’s rights crisis,” the petition states, noting that climate change is already exposing many young people to life-threatening diseases, wildfires, droughts, extreme weather and other threats.
According to the petition, leaders from five nations — Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey — knew about the risks of climate change for decades but took no legal or diplomatic actions to help fight the existential threat, even promoting fossil fuels and investing in coal and other dirty power sources.
Those countries — each of which had signed the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the 2016 Paris Agreement — failed to curb their own greenhouse gas emissions, as well as failed to persuade China, the United States, India, and other members of the European Union to do likewise, the petition claims.
The five countries were chosen because they are all large emitters and representative of the G20, said attorney Michael Hausfeld, who helped prepare the petition along with environmental group Earthjustice.
“Every nation has contributed to climate change,” the petition states. “But under human rights law, states are individually responsible for, and should be held accountable for, their sovereign actions and inactions that cause and contribute to climate change, and thereby breach their fundamental human rights obligations.”
Environmental groups note that member states of the G20 are responsible for more than 84% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
Formed in 1991, the U.N.’s Committee on the Rights of the Child is composed of 18 members from various member states. If the committee finds that the petition has merit, it will eventually advise U.N. nations on what actions to take.
Thunberg is joined in the 101-page petition by U.S. activist Alexandria Villasenor, who co-founded the U.S. Youth Climate Strike group. The youngest petitioner, Ellen-Anne from Sweden, is 8 years old.
During a press conference, Thunberg said she hopes the message to world leaders that “we have had enough” and urged immediate action. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said.
Thunberg later added that the global summit was a “huge opportunity” for world leaders to be united against climate change, even though the United States was not participating in the summit.
President Trump, who was expected not to show up during Monday’s U.N. climate summit, reportedly made a brief appearance before heading to a separate event on religious freedom.
Other petitioners took aim at Trump and world leaders for their inaction. “There’s no wall in the ocean. You can’t build a wall around us,” 17-year-old Chiara Sacchi of Argentina said during the press conference. “It’s one planet, the climate crisis is affecting every single person.”
Villasenor, who says her activism began after massive wildfires in her native California ravaged the state last year, noted she and others filed the petition because “I have little faith in our world leaders to do anything on the climate crisis.”
Other petitioners, including members of indigenous tribes, said they had experienced changes to their regional environments, with fewer berries, scarcer herds and other tangible effects.
“Come to my home, I am opening my home for you to see,” said Litokne Kabua, 17. Kabua had to flee his home on the Marshall Islands for refuge on a nearby U.S. army base after storms ravaged the South Pacific.
“I would show you my back yard … because I walk out the door, I see climate change,” Kabua later said, noting that wave surges have increased in frequency and intensity in recent years. “It’s happening. It’s blowing. It’s surging into your home.”
Thunberg, the most recognizable of the petitioners, has gained an international following after beginning a climate change strike in August 2018. Her movement snowballed and some have even called the growing interest among the world’s youth in climate change the “Greta Thunberg effect.”
Some critics have targeted Thunberg as the face of the new climate change movement, mocking her Asperger’s, claiming she was a puppet for adult activists, and even likening Thunberg’s look to Nazi propaganda.
The Sept. 20 global climate strike, during which an estimated 4 million people participated, will be followed by a similar strike on Sept. 27.