Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, pauses during a panel session on day two of the World Economic Forum. Image Credit: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Washington: US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin downplayed his remark that environmental activist Greta Thunberg should go study economics, saying he hadn’t meant it seriously.

“It was intended to be said somewhat in jest,” Mnuchin said at a Chatham House event in London Saturday. “I commented at the press conference that this was a joke, but it seems to have caught a lot of attention.”

At the meeting of global leaders in Davos, Mnuchin was asked to comment on the debate over the economics of climate change spurred by the Swedish teenager.

He quipped: “Is she the chief economist?” He then said, “After she goes and studies economics in college, she can go back and explain that to us.”

In response to Mnuchin’s comment on Thursday, Thunberg tweeted a graph from a UN report showing how the world’s remaining carbon budget will be depleted by 2027 unless global emissions are curbed.

“It doesn’t take a college degree in economics to realise that our remaining 1.5 degree carbon budget and ongoing fossil fuel subsidies and investments don’t add up,” she tweeted.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman and Mnuchin’s wife Louise Linton on Saturday both showed support for Thunberg.

“I stand with Greta on this issue. [I don’t have a degree in economics either] We need to drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels. Keep up the fight @gretathunberg,” Linton said on her Instagram account, in a post which has since been deleted.