Greta Thunberg’s rise from youth activist to global climate leader

As the Swedish climate campaigner goes viral for a Twitter comeback, here’s how she built the global Fridays for Future movement.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Greta Thunberg at the Vienna International Centre on 27 May 2019. Image: UNIS Vienna, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has always responded swiftly to celebrity critics, and now some social media users believe she may have helped enable the arrest of a suspected human trafficker after the two sparred online.

Andrew Tate - a British-American internet influencer who gained notoriety for his violently misogynistic comments - targeted the youth climate campaigner in December with a post on Twitter saying he had 33 cars with “enormous emissions”.

After Thunberg told Tate, 36, to “get a life”, he hit back with a video in which he asked somebody out of shot to bring him pizza and to make sure the boxes were “not recycled”.

Soon afterwards, Tate was arrested in Romania on suspicion of human trafficking, rape and forming an organised crime group.

Following online speculation that the Romanian pizza brand featured in the video helped police confirm Tate’s presence in the country, Thunberg quipped on Twitter that “this is what happens when you don’t recycle your pizza boxes”.

A Romanian anti-organised crime unit representative said it was not the case that Tate’s arrest had been made as a result of the pizza boxes.

Thunberg, who was 15 when she began staging climate strike protests, turned 20 on Jan. 3.

So, we can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change and it has to start today.

Greta Thunberg, youth activist, Fridays for Future

She has repeatedly hit the headlines - including for comebacks at high-profile men who have insulted her online, such as former US President Donald Trump - as she calls for urgent action to protect the planet’s heating climate.

Here’s a timeline of Thunberg’s rise from a solo climate striker to a leading global campaigner:

August 20, 2018: Swedish student Thunberg, aged 15, skips school to protest outside parliament for more action against climate change.

August 26, 2018: She is joined by fellow students, teachers and parents at another protest and begins attracting media attention for her climate campaign.

September 2018: Thunberg begins a regular ‘strike’ from classes every Friday to protest climate issues. She invites other students to join her weekly “Fridays for Future” campaign by staging walkouts at their own schools.

November 2018: More than 17,000 students in 24 countries take part in Friday school strikes. Thunberg begins speaking at high-profile events across Europe, including UN climate talks in Poland.

March 2019: Thunberg is nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. The number of students taking part in school strikes hits more than 2 million people across 135 countries.

May 2019: Thunberg is named one of the world’s most influential people by Time magazine, appearing on its cover. “Now I am speaking to the whole world,” she wrote on Twitter.

August 1, 2019: Thunberg hits back at “hate and conspiracy campaigns” after attacks by some right-wing lawmakers and commentators who questioned her credibility and described her as a “Nobel prize of fear”.

August 2019: Thunberg, who refuses to fly, sails from Britain to the United States in a zero-emissions boat to take part in a UN climate summit. Meanwhile, the number of climate strikers reaches 3.6 million people across 169 countries.

September 23, 2019: Thunberg delivers a blistering speech to leaders at the UN summit, accusing them of having “stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words“.    

September 25, 2019: Thunberg is named as one of four winners of the 2019 Right Livelihood Award, known as Sweden’s alternative Nobel Prize.

October 11, 2019: Despite being bookies’ favourite to win, Thunberg misses out of the Nobel Peace Prize which goes to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.    

November 2019: Caught out by a last-minute switch of location for UN climate talks from Chile to Spain, Thunberg hitches a ride on a catamaran boat crossing back to Europe.    

December 11, 2019: Thunberg denounces “clever accounting and creative PR” to mask a lack of real action on climate change in a speech at the UN COP25 summit as the 16-year-old became the youngest individual to be Time Magazine’s person of the year.

March 13, 2020: As governments limit or ban mass gatherings to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, Thunberg urges students to make week 82 of the school strike digital, with the hashtag #ClimateStrikeOnline.

March 24, 2020: Thunberg says the swift measures brought in to stem the coronavirus pandemic show that the world can also take the rapid action needed to curb climate change. She also says on social media that she may have caught COVID-19.

April 30, 2020: Thunberg donates a $100,000 award she received to UNICEF to buy soap, masks and gloves to protect children from the coronavirus pandemic.

July 20, 2020: Thunberg wins the first Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity and donates the 1 million euro prize money to charitable organisations.

January 31, 2021: Thunberg is again nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, the World Health Organisation.

April 9, 2021: The activist says she will not attend COP26 in Glasgow, due to run Nov. 1-12, because of concerns over vaccine inequality - but later changes her mind after the UK government offers to vaccinate all participants against COVID-19.

April 19, 2021: Thunberg says her foundation will give 100,000 euros ($120,000) to the WHO Foundation to support the COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme.

November 2, 2021: Protesting outside the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Thunberg says world leaders have “led us nowhere” and it is up to civil activists to bring about change.    “Change won’t come from these conferences like #COP26 unless there is big public pressure from the outside,” she tweeted.

June 25, 2022: Festival-goers welcome Thunberg on stage at Britain’s Glastonbury festival, during a surprise appearance where she criticizes world leaders and tells the crowd they have the power to act now.

September 6, 2022: In the run-up to Sweden’s election on September 11, Thunberg accuses politicians of ignoring the climate crisis during their campaigns and treating it as if it were simply a problem rather than a life-or-death threat.

October 20, 2022: Thunberg tweets a petition calling for Egypt to release political prisoners ahead of the November COP27 summit. Thunberg has said she will not attend the conference in Egypt, saying that representatives from areas most affected by climate change are better spokespeople.

October 27, 2022: Thunberg publishes The Climate Book, which includes essays from more than 100 experts, including scientists, activists and indigenous leaders. Thunberg said proceeds from the book will go to charity.

October 30, 2022: A week before the UN COP27 climate summit, Thunberg says it is an opportunity for “greenwashing, lying and cheating” and she will not attend the conference.

November 25, 2022: A group of 600 young people, including Thunberg, file a lawsuit against Sweden for failing to take adequate steps to combat climate change.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit

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