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

A colourful early morning sky, wispy cloud cover, the Golden Ears Bridge in the background, and the Fraser River and wharf in the foreground demonstrate just some of the breathtaking natural and man-made sights visible from the shoreline in Pitt Meadows – as seen through lens of Pitt Meadows resident Karen Foster. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Wharf offers riverside perspective of the bridge

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Jim Jensen recently took a leisurely and peaceful paddle on Alouette Lake, in Maple Ridge’s Golden Ears Provincial Park, and marvelled at the beauty of nature. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Floating on the still waters of the Alouette

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Hayden McGillvray shared a picture taken from the Port Haney train station, looking up the Fraser River from the historic wharf. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Sunset as seen from the train station

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Silver Valley resident Freda du Plessis was photographing bumblebees near Pitt Lake when a “majestic” osprey flew overhead hunting for food. It snagged this fish, and set down on a pole near du Plessis to eat. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Time to feast

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Bill Longpre shared a picture of the Fraser River and the Golden Ears Bridge as seen from one of the remaining mills along the shore in Albion. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Living life along the Fraser

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Chilliwack Search and Rescue volunteers say that a call on April 17 on Vedder Mountain was affected by bikers who rode through the rescue site, throwing rocks onto members and the patient. (Chilliwack Search and Rescue image)
Chilliwack Search and Rescue team, and patient, sprayed with rocks and dirt during rescue

Volunteer crew speaks out after riders on Vedder Mountain show no courtesy at accident scene

File photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
One man dead after shooting in Downtown Vancouver

This is Vancouver’s fifth homicide of the year

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

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of April 18

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Most Read