Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg urged Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and other world leaders to do more for the environment as she led half a million protesters in Montreal on Friday as part of a global wave of “climate strikes”.
The 16-year-old Swede met Trudeau in private but later told a news conference with local indigenous leaders that he was “not doing enough” to curb greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
“My message to all the politicians around the world is the same. Just listen and act on the current best available science,” she said.
Ms Thunberg generated headlines around the world earlier this week with her viral so-called “How Dare You?” speech at the UN climate summit, accusing world leaders of betraying her generation.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she thundered, visibly angry and close to tears.
The teenager has inspired millions of youths, drawn to her cause by her passion and a mature, committed rhetorical style – articulated in near-perfect English – that belies her young age.
Mr Trudeau and other Canadian party leaders took a breather from a tight election campaign to join the Montreal rally, along with about 500,000 protesters, organisers said.
Walking with his wife and children, Mr Trudeau mingled with a boisterous crowd that brandished placards reading “Respect Mother Earth” and “Make America Greta Again”, a riff on a campaign slogan popularised by US president and noted climate change sceptic Donald Trump.
One man was tackled by security when he appeared to lunge at the prime minister, while Annabelle Vellend, 13, broke out in tears when she spotted Ms Thunberg, telling AFP: “I really believe in Greta’s movement.”
“She is doing amazing things and it’s great that she’s able to press politicians to act on climate change, during an election,” she said.
In his first term, Trudeau cast himself as a champion in the fight against global warming, but his green image was tarnished by his nationalisation of an oil pipeline to salvage the construction project after years of delay.
The prime minister said after meeting Ms Thunberg and pledging to fund the planting of two billion trees: “I agree with her entirely. We need to do more.”
Earlier this week, the Liberal party leader vowed that Canada would reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, becoming the 67th country to make the pledge.
Last Friday, more than four million children – and adults – rallied in “climate strikes” around the world.
Turnout at events a week on was smaller, but still vocal. In Italy hundreds of thousands of young people took to the streets while about 40,000 protested outside New Zealand’s parliament.
In Canada, events also attracted huge crowds in the capital Ottawa, in Toronto and in several other cities.
In the heart of the giant Montreal march made up mainly of teenagers and a few adults, Alexanne Lessard stood out in her tree costume.
“I’m here for our future, to show our government that we the majority want to do something and that they can take big steps that will have an impact,” she said.
Daphnee Choquette said she came out for her baby girl, whom she carried.
“It’s too late for us [older people], but not for them. We need to bring about change now,” she said.
In the afternoon, Ms Thunberg is set to take aim at airlines’ rocketing carbon dioxide emissions in a speech outside the UN aviation agency in Montreal, which is holding its annual conference.
Limiting airlines’ carbon footprint is one of the main topics to be discussed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s 193 member states at the meeting, which runs until October 4.
Air travel accounts for about two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the ICAO has said.
Ms Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic for the recent UN climate summit in New York specifically to avoid flying. She then drove to Montreal in an electric car borrowed from the former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The world’s top climate scientists believe the long-term average temperature rise must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels to prevent runaway warming and catastrophic long-term damage.
But the level of emissions being released into the atmosphere has risen to an all-time high, triggering global weather hazards from heatwaves to intense hurricanes and raging wildfires.
The UN estimates that the world needs to increase its current efforts to contain climate change fivefold.
Its summit in New York sought to reinvigorate the faltering Paris agreement on climate change.