Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said on Thursday the world needed an economic overhaul to have a chance of beating climate change and that countries should be prepared to tear up old deals and contracts to meet green targets.
The 17-year-old spoke to Reuters TV after she and other activists sent an open letter to European leaders urging them to take emergency action and saying people in power had practically "given up" on searching for a real solution.
"We need to see it as, above all, an existential crisis. And as long as it's not being treated as a crisis, we can have as many of these climate change negotiations and talks, conferences as possible. It won't change a thing," Thunberg said, speaking via video from her home in Stockholm.
Thunberg, who lambasted world leaders at a UN climate summit last year for believing in "fairytales" of eternal economic growth, said that only fundamental change to the existing system would bring climate change under control.
She cited a UN study published in November that suggested planned investments to boost fossil fuel production are likely to push temperature goals enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement out of reach.
"So that means that if we are to stay below these targets, we have to make it possible to tear up and abandon valid contracts and deals. And that is not possible within today's system," Thunberg said.
"So, yes, then obviously we need to think differently. And, yes, we need to think outside the box."
Demands in the letter, released before Friday's European Council summit, included an immediate halt to all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, in parallel with a rapid ending of fossil fuel subsidies.
The letter also called for binding annual "carbon budgets" to limit how much greenhouse gas countries can emit to maximise the chances of capping the rise in average global temperatures at 1.5C, a goal enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate accord.
It urged European governments to back calls for the Hague-based International Criminal Court to adopt a new crime of "ecocide" to prosecute people responsible for large-scale destruction of the natural world.
Thunberg emerged as the face of a growing, youth-led climate movement after a solitary vigil she began holding outside the Swedish parliament in 2018 inspired children and teenagers around the world to stage school strikes on Friday afternoons.
With climate protests largely driven online by the coronavirus pandemic, Thunberg joined climate scientists, activists and celebrities including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and author Margaret Atwood in signing the letter that was posted on https://climateemergencyeu.org.
"The longer we keep pretending that we are on a reliable path to lower emissions and that the actions required to avoid a climate disaster are available within today's system ... the more precious time we will lose," the letter read.
It called for climate policies to be designed to protect workers and the most vulnerable and reduce economic, racial and gender inequalities, as well as moves to "safeguard and protect" democracy.