Donald Trump has decried climate “prophets of doom” and taken credit for a “spectacular” turnaround in the US economy in a keynote speech delivered in Switzerland in front of teenager activist Greta Thunberg.
The US president called for a rejection of “predictions of the apocalypse” at the World Economic Forum in Davos yesterday.
He did not directly name Thunberg as he preached it was time for optimism, not pessimism, in an address that praised his country’s economic achievements.
He spent nearly all of his 30-minute speech describing US economic gains under his leadership.
Ms Thunberg had earlier told business and political elites in her own speech they were not doing enough to tackle the climate emergency and warned them that time was running out.
At a panel in the Swiss ski resort, climate campaigners expressed hope their generation could work with those in power to bring about the change needed to limit global warming even as Ms Thunberg – a vocal critic of leaders’ inaction – said not enough has been done.
“We need to start listening to the science and treat this crisis with the importance it deserves,” said the 17-year-old, just as Mr Trump was arriving in Davos.
“Without treating it as a real crisis we cannot solve it,” Ms Thunberg said. She added that it was time to stop burning fossil fuels immediately, not decades from now.
Ms Thunberg brushed aside Mr Trump’s announcement the US would join the economic forum’s initiative to plant one trillion trees across the globe to help capture carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere. It was the US president’s only reference to climate issues.
“Planting trees is good, of course, but it’s nowhere near enough,” Ms Thunberg said. “It cannot replace mitigation.”
The activist accused leaders of “cheating and fiddling around with numbers” with talk of cutting emissions to “net zero” – that is, emitting no more carbon than is absorbed by the planet or technical means – by 2050.
Mr Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris accord to limit climate change and has traded barbs with Ms Thunberg on social media.
Jennifer Morgan, the executive director of Greenpeace, said the focus on growth was “an anomaly in this climate emergency”.
“The habit of giving priority to [gross domestic product] over the well-being of citizens has got to stop,” she said.
Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz slammed Mr Trump’s speech for misrepresenting the economy and for failing to tackle climate issues.
In his speech, Mr Trump lauded a long list of achievements of his administration since it came to office three years ago.
Mr Stiglitz said right after the speech “the characterisation of the economy is totally wrong”.
Mr Trump’s speech was met with almost total silence from the crowd, unlike his last speech in Davos in 2018, when he was met with occasional boos and laughter. Mr Stiglitz also voiced his frustration at Mr Trump’s failure to address the climate emergency head-on, beyond the US’s tree planting commitment.
Climate issues are a main theme at the forum and the phrase “Act on Climate” was written in the snow at the landing zone where Mr Trump’s Marine One helicopter set down in Davos.
Mr Stiglitz said: “He managed to say absolutely zero on climate change. Meanwhile, we’re going to roast.”
Angel Gurria, head the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, praised a “very positive and constructive message” from Mr Trump.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic noted Mr Trump wanted above all to trumpet his administration’s achievements. “Without any doubt, this speech can be positioned well in the electoral year in the United States,” he said.