Environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg has hit out at world leaders for wanting to be pictured with her to “look good”.

The 17-year-old became a global star thanks to her activism, and gave a powerful speech at the United Nations climate change summit in September in which she told world leaders: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words … how dare you!”

As part of a series she has made about her campaigning for Swedish radio during the coronavirus lockdown, Thunberg revealed that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had queued up to have a “selfie” with the teenager at the international gathering in New York.

On the radio programme, she was critical of the way high-ranking figures had behaved after her UN appearance.

She said: “Presidents, prime ministers, kings and princesses came and wanted to talk to me.

“They saw me and suddenly saw the chance that they could take a photo with me for their Instagram account. Then the hashtag #savetheplanet.

“It seemed as if they had forgotten for a moment to be ashamed that their generation had let future generations down.”

In follow-up comments made to the BBC, Thunberg, who has more than 4m Twitter followers, said she had a “dislike” for politicians who wanted to capitalise on her fame by being photographed alongside her.

“To be fair, it was not only her, it was many,” she said, when asked about the situation with Merkel.

“And those kinds of things happen all the time. People just want to stand next to me and other climate activists.

“They can post it on social media and it makes them look good, it makes them seem like they care.”

In January, Thunberg was pictured with Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, after he gave a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Thunberg did not refer to Charles, a longstanding environmentalist, when making her comments, however.

When asked if global leaders vying for picture opportunities made her feel “used”, the founder of the school strike for climate movement said: “Yes, people definitely see me sometimes as someone to stand next to, to look good, and that is something I really dislike because that’s not the sort of person I want to be.”

'What will you tell your children?': Greta Thunberg blasts climate inaction at Davos – video

During the 25-minute interview, Thunberg said she hoped that the changes made by governments and people across the globe in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic would help to change the perception around the action required to tackle global warming.

The advocate has previously slammed the UK’s declining carbon emissions figures as “creative accounting” and has pushed for firmer action to be taken.

“If anything it [coronavirus] will change the way we perceive and treat crises because it shows that during a crisis you act with necessary force,” she told the BBC.

“And it has also opened up the discussion around how much we value human life.

“For example, people say they are ready to sacrifice the economy. They are saying we will do what it takes because we cannot put a price on a human life.

“If you introduce that logic for the climate, for instance, then that opens up many possibilities and it changes the discussion of the debate.”

• This article was amended on 30 June 2020 to correct the name of the climate movement: it is “school strike” not “schools strike”.

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