Rob Liddell, executive producer of Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World for BBC Studios, talks to TV Real about the docuseries that follows the teenage environmental activist as she seeks to raise awareness for the accelerating climate change crisis.
Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg catapulted to global fame as she challenged world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation. In Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World, she steps out from behind the podium and onto the front lines.
A BBC Studios Science Unit production in association with B-Reel Films and co-produced with the BBC for PBS, the three-part documentary series follows Thunberg as she seeks to raise awareness for the accelerating climate change crisis. “Greta was keen to make a project that focused on the science of climate change,” says Rob Liddell, executive producer of the doc for BBC Studios. “She’s worked with BBC Studios Science Unit on a previous production and approached us via the Swedish production company B-Reel Films that she was making a feature documentary with, called I Am Greta. BBC Studios then developed the idea, building on the Unit’s reputation of independent and high-quality science journalism.”
Over the course of the three episodes, Thunberg explores the science behind climate change as she travels to locations across the globe—from the burning tar sands of the Canadian oil industry to the coal mines of Europe and the melting glaciers of the U.S.—meeting leading climate scientists, witnessing firsthand the consequences of climate change and confronting what is required to make change happen. The series also hears from a range of academics, economists and experts, further exploring the climate change science Thunberg encounters on the ground.
“Greta was the principal contributor in the series; she allowed the production unique access to follow her on her year off from school to witness her journey as an activist,” Liddell says. “The series follows Greta over an extraordinary year in which she comes of age as she takes her fight against climate change to a global stage. We see her embark upon a mission that would take her across the globe to challenge world leaders and demand they meet their promises to try and limit global warming.”
“As a science series, the production arranged key scenes where Greta met with scientists and experts and also independently filmed key contributions from some of the world’s leading climate scientists and economists,” he continues. “As she travels across the globe, Greta explores the science—from the melting glaciers of Canada to the coal mines of Europe. She witnesses firsthand the consequences of climate change and makes clear the reasons why she thinks something must be done right now. On her journey, she meets climate scientists and confronts the complexity of what is required to make change happen. Encounters with some of the world’s leading scientists and economists allow the series to examine what the latest science tells us about what can be done to avert the worst effects of climate change.”
Liddell notes that Thunberg was very committed to the series, giving the production open access to her life and time in her busy schedule. “To the outside world, she is a media phenomenon, one of the most famous faces on the planet. But filming with Greta revealed she is not like the stereotype of many celebrities. She insists on taking regular public transport where possible and doesn’t have a big entourage. In North America, Greta and her father, Svante, drove themselves around the continent, including to and from filming locations and the many mass marches they attended.”
As with many projects made amid the global coronavirus pandemic, the production team had to adapt and be creative in response to the challenges Covid-19 posed, Liddell explains. “Some of Greta’s travel plans were naturally curtailed, but there was lots of content we were able to film between periods of lockdown. Filming many of the key experts was done remotely, but this actually allowed the series to spread the net wider, including people based in parts of the world that are often underrepresented.”
The messages in the series can be very sobering, as the science makes clear that climate change is having a significant impact and will get worse in the future. The program explores many aspects of the climate debate, including actions and technologies that can make a difference, along with giving insight into Thunberg, her activism and what she is trying to achieve. “The series explores the latest science of climate change, delivers the facts in a clear and accurate manner, and also features a range of possible solutions to limiting carbon emissions,” Liddell says. “Production thoroughly researched the series, consulted with a range of scientists throughout the making of it and filmed with a broad range of scientists and experts to capture the latest consensus view of climate change.”
He adds that this type of production is perfectly in line with the type of programming that BBC Studios is committed to delivering. “BBC Studios has an unrivaled reputation for authoritative content and journalism that explores climate change,” says Liddell. “With Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World, the series aims to make a real impact and bring the important issue of climate change to a broad audience.”