Youth climate activists including Greta Thunberg met Italy's Prime Minister and current president of the G20 Mario Draghi on Thursday in a final push to get world leaders to match rhetoric with action before the UN COP26 climate summit.
Thousands of young activists converged this week for a Youth4Climate event in Milan, where Draghi and his UK counterpart Boris Johnson also spoke on Thursday along with COP26 president Alok Sharma and UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Thunberg, 18, who on Tuesday lambasted world leaders for "30 years of blah, blah, blah" in battling climate change, and two other fellow youth delegates met privately with Draghi before he addressed the plenary on Thursday.
"You are right to demand accountability and change ... your mobilisation has been powerful and rest assured: we are listening," Draghi said in his opening remarks.
His speech was interrupted by activists chanting "People united will never be defeated", who were then escorted from the room. Outside the venue, activists trying to block the road briefly scuffled with Italian riot police.
Italy is co-hosting the COP26 along with the UK from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 in Glasgow. The conference aims to secure more ambitious climate action from the nearly 200 countries that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement and agreed to try to limit human-caused global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Draghi wants the earlier G20 summit in October to make a commitment about the need to keep the 1.5 degrees limit within reach and develop long-term strategies in line with that goal.
"My sense is that leaders are all absolutely convinced of the need to act and act fast," he added.
The activists' proposals include demands for a transparent climate finance system, sustainable and responsible tourism as well as a call for the total phasing out of the fossil fuel industry by 2030.
Those proposals will be vetted by climate and energy ministers at the pre-COP26 gathering in the next few days ahead of the Glasgow conference.
The young climate champions are demanding policymakers match rhetoric with action and stump up the billions of dollars needed to wean the world off fossil fuels to cleaner energy during a year that has seen record-breaking heatwaves, floods and fires.
Draghi urged all wealthy nations who pledged a decade ago to mobilize $100 billion a year to help vulnerable countries adapt and transition to cleaner energy to fulfil that promise, adding the aid should come in grants, not loans, to avoid hiking debt.
While new energy and funding pledges from the U.S. and China have left negotiators more upbeat, many G20 countries, including major polluters like China and India, are yet to deliver updates of their short-term climate action plans.
Sharma said not all countries had come forward with sufficient money and emission commitments. "We need them to do so, including the biggest emitters," he said.