EU Climate Emergency: What comes next?

“This must be more than gesture politics.” Following the EU Parliament’s declaration of a Climate Emergency, Green MEP Molly Scott Cato explains whether this action is enough to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030.

European Parliament
European Parliament
Molly Scott Cato

The EU has become the first multilateral bloc to declare a Climate Emergency. The declaration, supported by a vast majority of MEPs, was voted through by the European Parliament on Thursday (28 November).

The fact that MEPs debated the climate crisis and declared such an emergency is a sign of how much influence the Greens are having in Europe. It was also encouraging that the Parliament agreed that the Commission must ‘fully assess the climate and environmental impact of all relevant legislative and budgetary proposals’.

But this must be more than gesture politics. What was notably absent from the agreed text were any concrete actions. The targets are also inadequate. The Parliament backed raising the EU’s emissions reduction targets from 40 per cent to 55 per cent by 2030. But this isn’t good enough. 

In the UK, Greens are calling for the UK to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, because of our historical emissions and the fact we are a major polluter. For the EU as a whole Greens believe that carbon neutrality must be achieved by 2040 at the latest with a 65 per cent average reduction in emissions by 2030. 

The timing of this Climate Emergency declaration couldn’t have been more apt. Earlier in the week the World Meteorological Organization revealed global greenhouse gas emissions reached a new high last year. The last time our planet experienced current concentrations the temperature was two to three degrees warmer and sea levels were 10-20 metres higher.

Then came the UN’s annual assessment of global climate pledges. This exposed the yawning gap between the drastic cuts in emissions that are needed to prevent climate chaos with current projections based on pledged actions. 

And of course, next week comes COP25 in Madrid where ministers of energy, finance and environment from around the world will together try to scale up action to transition to a low-carbon economy.  

As well as having declared a Climate Emergency, the EU will be able to bring some positive actions to the table. The European Investment Bank has pledged to end funding of fossil fuel projects by 2021 and shift investments, amounting to one trillion euros over the next decade, into renewable energy projects. 

Also, new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has pledged to make tackling climate change a top priority and will announce her European Green Deal once she takes office. Measures planned include a carbon border tax on polluting foreign firms, reform of the EU’s emissions trading system and a ‘Just Transition Fund’ to provide predominantly eastern European countries with financial aid to transition away from fossil fuels.

Greens also want the newly appointed Climate Commissioner to present a comprehensive climate law as soon as possible and for the Commission to ban any of the EU budget going towards fossil fuels.

We must not lose sight of the unfolding emergency. Choosing the wrong date to achieve carbon neutrality could literally be the difference between life and death; it could lead to climate chaos and spell the end of human civilisation, or usher in a rapid transition to a cleaner, greener, healthier planet where we can prosper.  

Safeguarding our planet for future generations means challenging sectors often considered too politically sensitive. We need to take on the vested interests of aviation – which is still subsidised with European money – the automobile sector and agribusiness. Above all it means ending our obsession with economic growth.

Decision-makers in the EU and at COP25 should heed the words of Greta Thunberg: "The eyes of future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, we will never forgive you."

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