Young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg reacts after giving a speech during a special meeting of the Environment Committee at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Eastern France, Apr. 16, 2019.
Young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg reacts after giving a speech during a special meeting of the Environment Committee at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Eastern France, Apr. 16, 2019.

STRASBOURG - Sweden's teenage activist Greta Thunberg choked backed tears on Tuesday as she warned of climate disaster and urged Europeans to vote in next month's elections to press for decisive action on cutting greenhouse gases.

In a speech to a packed committee of the European Parliament, Thunberg, 16, warned time is running out to stop the ravages of global warming.

"I want you to panic, I want you to act as if the house was on fire," Thunberg told the environment committee of the assembly in the French city of Strasbourg.

Citing scientific reports endorsed by the United Nations and holding back her tears, she warned of accelerating disasters like mass species extinction, erosion of top soil, deforestation, air pollution, loss of insects and the acidification of oceans.

She received a warm round of applause before composing herself and continuing her speech.

"You need to listen to us, we who cannot vote," Thunberg said, referring to the tens of thousands of students taking to the streets worldwide to fight climate change.

"You need to vote for us, for your children and grandchildren," she said. "In this election, you vote for the future living conditions for human kind."

Voters in EU countries will elect on May 23-26 a new European Parliament, which will also play a role in chosing the head of the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm.

Hijacked for political ends

During a visit to Brussels in February, Thunberg urged the European Union to double its ambition for greenhouse gas cuts, upping its target from 40 percent to 80 percent by 2030.

Under the 2015 Paris climate deal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the 28-nation EU has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030, compared to 1990.

EU officials are now talking of increasing the figure to 45 percent.

The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has said warming is on track toward an unliveable 3C or 4C rise, and avoiding global chaos will require a major transformation.

Thunberg has inspired tens of thousands of children worldwide to boycott classes to draw attention to climate change.

Around 100 young people marched Tuesday through the streets of Strasbourg to the parliament building to press for urgent action against climate change.

Francoise Grossetete, a French member of the European Parliament, said she would skip the committee hearing because she strongly objected to Thunberg's alarmist stand that in her view is anti-economic growth.

Thunberg has become "the symbol of this just environmental cause that is hijacked for political ends" by environmental lobbies, said Grosssete, a member of the center-right European People's Party.

The Swede hit global headlines with her speech in December at a UN climate meeting in Poland and has received support from climate activists.