On Friday 12th July, three young representatives of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) presented Greta Thunberg with the charity’s prestigious Geddes Environment Medal. In doing so, the 16 year old climate campaigner became the youngest person in the Society’s 135 year history to receive an RSGS Medal.

The Geddes Environment Medal is one of the Society’s most important awards, offered for an outstanding contribution to conservation and protection of the natural environment and the development of sustainability. It is named in honour of revered Scottish geographer Patrick Geddes who coined the phrase ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’.

Fittingly given this phrase, Thunberg was offered the award for her pioneering development of the School’s Strike for Climate Campaign which has spread to more than 270 cities worldwide – and which began as a solo strike outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018 – as well as for her inspirational and courageous calls for action on various international platforms.

Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of RSGS and long-term climate change campaigner commented:

“Greta’s example has spearheaded a widespread and deep-rooted demand by our younger generations for a future they can believe in. Her incredible example and bold words, whilst challenging to us all, remind us of this urgency and responsibility.

“We need to enact the necessary solutions now – we cannot wait for her generation to take over.”

Presenting the award on behalf of the Society were Eilidh Watson (23), Cameron Mackay (24) and Lyndsey Croal (26), the Editors of the next edition of the RSGS Young Geographer magazine. The publication is based around issues of sustainability and climate change, particularly in the Arctic, so they’re hoping they can turn this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity into an exclusive interview piece with Thunberg for the upcoming youth-driven project.

Commenting on the chance to meet Greta, Eilidh Watson, a PhD researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University, said:

“It’s was a great honour to present Greta with the RSGS Geddes Environment Medal, particularly as someone who is passionate and committed to researching climate justice. I take great encouragement from Greta’s determination and courage and have been bowled over by the success and global awareness the School Strikes Campaign has gained.”

To deliver the award, the Scottish trio travelled to Stockholm across three days using only overland transport: several trains, ferries, overnight buses and foot, taking in the cities of Newcastle, Amsterdam, Hamburg and Copenhagen. The Medal, along with Honorary Fellowship of the Society, was then passed over outside the Swedish Parliament during one of Greta’s weekly Friday climate strikes.

Cameron Mackay, who works as a freelance filmmaker and as an Environment Project Assistant at Strathclyde University, said of the journey:

“Land and sea travel isn’t just a great alternative to high-carbon flying, it is also a fantastic way to spend time with friends, experience beautiful landscapes and get some work done. And it’s also an excuse to capture the joy of slow travel on film, following Greta’s example, and help communicate the idea that we all need to think more closely about our most unsustainable habits.”

For the RSGS, presenting the Medal to Thunberg outside the Swedish Parliament was symbolic given that her high-profile story began here back in 2018. Then just a ninth-grader, she decided to not attend school until the Swedish general election in early September. After heat waves and wildfires in Sweden, her demands were that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions as per the Paris Climate Agreement.

She protested by sitting outside the Riksdag every day during school hours with the sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate).

After the general elections, she continued to strike only on Fridays, which gained worldwide attention, inspiring school students across the globe to follow suit. By December 2018, more than 20,000 students had taken to the streets in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Japan, Switzerland the United Kingdom and the United States, plus many, many more.

She participated in the Rise for Climate demonstration outside the European Parliament in Brussels. She addressed the COP24 United Nations climate change summit in December 2018. And on 23 January 2019, Thunberg arrived in Davos after her 32-hour train journey to continue her climate campaign at the World Economic Forum.

Since January, more than one and a half million students have taken to the streets to demand action on climate change, a book of her various speeches has been published, she’s been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and dubbed the “greatest threat” to the fossil fuel industry by the head of OPEC, a title Thunberg described as a badge of honour.

Not bad before graduating from High School.

Reflecting on the RSGS visit to Sweden, Lyndsey Croall, Public Affairs Manager for WWF Scotland, said:

“It has been fantastic to watch Greta’s movement build from the grassroots to inspiring millions of people in such a short timeframe – it shows that even small acts can make a difference, and gives me hope for the future.

She added, “Scotland and Sweden are quite alike in the climate change movement. Both are viewed as leaders, but both have the capacity to step up policy action and do more to get to net zero faster. So we all need to keep calling for real on-the-ground delivery.”

In receiving a Medal from RSGS, Greta will join an illustrious list of adventurers, explorers, scientists, policy-makers, communicators and fellow climate change campaigners. Amongst the most notable are Sir Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundson, Robert Falcon Scott, Neil Armstrong and Sir Edmund Hillary, as well as, more recently, climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson, the pilots of Solar Impulse, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, and Architect of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, Christiana Figueres.

With Greta’s call to action keenly felt, Robinson and the RSGS are continuing to work directly across a range of climate change topics to address this issue holistically and proactively. Robinson has been invited to co-chair a new independent inquiry into sustainable agriculture in Scotland; the RSGS are working with a wide range of partners to promote improved public transport and active-travel take-up; and Robinson is leading a group of business leaders and academics to produce an innovative new RSGS Climate Solutions qualification.

This qualification, aimed at the business community and supported by the IOD, the Universities of Edinburgh and Stirling, and the Scottish Government, aims to provide an easy-to-follow road map for addressing climate change at an organisational level. With the opportunity to work towards accreditation, it will also demonstrate the underlying reasons why solving this problem is critical both in terms of our environment and market prescience moving forwards. Branded as Climate Solutions, the course will short-cut vast amounts of literature and be delivered via three short online modules and one face-to-face workshop. It is due to pilot in late 2019, early 2020.