Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, front right, is applauded by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and cheered by his wife Joan Phillip as she addresses a student-led climate change rally after participating in a march, in Vancouver, on Friday October 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, front right, is applauded by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and cheered by his wife Joan Phillip as she addresses a student-led climate change rally after participating in a march, in Vancouver, on Friday October 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Thunberg ‘a bit surprised’ to be Time ‘Person of the Year’

‘I could never have imagined anything like that happening,’ she said in a phone interview

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg said she was surprised and honoured Wednesday to learn she had been named Time’s youngest “Person of the Year,” saying the accolade deserved to be shared by others in the global movement she helped inspire.

The 16-year-old Swede has become the face of a new generation of activists, drawing large crowds with her appearances at protests and conferences over the past year and a half. Some have welcomed her activism, including her speeches challenging world leaders to do more to stop global warming. But others have criticized her sometimes combative tone.

“For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads, Greta Thunberg is TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year,” the media franchise said on its website.

Leaving a U.N. climate conference in Madrid, Thunberg told The Associated Press she was “a bit surprised” at the recognition.

“I could never have imagined anything like that happening,” she said in a phone interview.

“I’m of course, very grateful for that, very honoured,” Thunberg said, but added that “it should be everyone in the Fridays for Future movement because what we have done, we have done together.”

Thunberg said she was hopeful that the message being pushed by her and other activists — that governments need to drastically increase their efforts to combat climate change — is finally getting through.

But she insisted that the media should also pay attention to other activists, particularly indigenous people who she said “are hit hardest by the climate and environmental crisis,” and to the science around global warming.

“That is what I am trying to do, to use my platform to do,” she said.

READ MORE: 1898 Yukon gold rush photo featuring Greta Thunberg look-alike sends internet into tailspin

Thunberg said the movement, which has staged repeated worldwide protests attended by hundreds of thousands of people, had managed to spread awareness about the need to urgently reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and help those already affected by climate change.

“To get in a sense of urgency in the conversation that is very needed right now to be able to move forward,” she said. “That, I think, is our biggest success.”

Asked whether she thought world leaders were beginning to respond to this message, Thunberg said: “They say they listen and they say they understand, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.”

“If they really would listen and understand then I think they need to prove that by translating that into action,” she added.

She said the experience of the past 15 months, going from solo-protester outside the Swedish parliament to speaking in front of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, had changed her.

“I think life is much more meaningful now that I have something to do that has an impact,” she said.

Thunberg has tried to preserve some privacy despite the relentless interest she’s received from media and adoring fans in recent months.

She was mobbed on her arrival in Madrid last week and the attention paid to her appearances at the climate conference has far outstripped that of other events, save for Hollywood stars like Harrison Ford.

“I would like to be left alone,” Thunberg said when asked about her plans for the next days. She will later travel home to Sweden, to spend Christmas with her family and dogs, she added.

“After that, I have no school to return to until August because I’ve taken a gap year,” she said.

“I will probably continue a bit like now, travel around. And if I get invitations to come. And just try everything I can,” she added.

Earlier Wednesday, Thunberg addressed negotiators at the U.N.’s annual climate talks, warning that “almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR.”

Last year’s Time winners included slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi; the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five people were shot to death; Philippine journalist Maria Ressa; and two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

Frank Jordans, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Judy and Ken Reid share a smile at Peace Arch Hospital in 2018. Judy raised concerns last month about how the COVID-19 vaccine would be rolled out. Now, she says no one is telling residents or families when they will start to see restrictions ease. (Contributed photo)
Timeline for reduced restrictions in long-term care a concern for spouse of South Surrey senior

‘We’re not yet at that point,’ says provincial health officer

TEASE PHOTO: Teens at the Bumpers dance club in Whalley in the 1980s, in a photo posted to the "Bumpers / The Zone OFFICIAL Party Page" on Facebook.com.
SURREY NOW & THEN: Bumpers and other teen dance clubs were big in the 1980s

A weekly look back at Surrey-area landmark sites and events

Gurinder Mann. (Submitted photo)
Surrey man receives prestigious restorative justice award

East Newton resident Gurinder Mann one of five to receive a Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey Police Service looking to hire in-house lawyer

Solicitor to work within Office of the Chief Constable, serve on internal and external committees to ‘represent the SPS’s interests’

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Most Read