Climate threat is declared an emergency by EU Parliament

green action in the EU

The threat of climate change has been confirmed by the European Union Parliament in a declaration that we are in “a climate and environment emergency.”

What is in the climate threat declaration?

The parliament, the only democratically elected EU institution, has called on the other EU bodies, the EU Commission and the 28 member states “to urgently take the concrete action needed in order to fight and contain this threat before it is too late.”

Out of the 673 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), the emergency footing was confirmed by a majority of 204, with 429 votes for, 225 votes against and 19 abstaining.

The call was also addressed to “all global actors”, meaning nation states such as the US and China and international institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the UN.

The declaration is symbolic, but it is intended to put pressure on the new EU Commission, the union’s most powerful body, to take climate and environmental dangers into account when proposing relevant legislation or budgets so global warming doesn’t rise more than 1.5°C.

The EU is the first continent to join scientists, cities, regions and countries across the world, including the UK, in making such a statement.

A radical overhaul to coordinate the way the EU invests in agriculture, trade, transport, energy and infrastructure should be carried out by the commission in view of the global emergency according to the declaration.

The parliament laid out its own commitments to warding off the impending global disaster.

Zero-emission vehicles to replace the parliament’s transport fleet along with other measures to limit the institution’s carbon footprint are promised in the declaration.

The call to action was made as a comprehensive climate strategy, called a European Green Deal, is being debated in the halls of the EU’s governing bodies and a world response to the crisis is being hammered out at the UN’s COP25 Climate Change Conference in Madrid.

The climate conference is being attended by the newly-elected EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen who has put climate change at the forefront of her presidency.

What else did the EU Parliament say?

A second declaration that the EU should commit to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible or by 2050 at the latest in the UN talks was also agreed at the parliamentary session with 430 votes for, 190 votes against and 34 abstentions. It calls on President von der Leyen to put a target of 55% reduction in emissions by 2030 into the European Green Deal.

The Green Deal mandates more money for sustainable businesses, cuts in pollution, protection for Europe's few remaining wildernesses and an increase in carbon taxes.

The EU’s current targets on climate-damaging emissions is for a 40% reduction on 1990 levels by 2030. The new president wants to make reductions of at least 50%. The UK has pledged a climate-neutral economy by 2050, although Labour and the Liberal Democrats want to bring that forward to the 2030s.

A carbon-neutral EU by 2050 has been proposed by the commission already, but Poland, Hungary and Czechia have vetoed another EU body, the European Council, from backing it. However, a transition fund to help these coal-dependent countries may help remove this particular roadblock.

The MEPs highlighted the failure to adequately deal with emissions from the aviation and shipping industries and demanded the energy and climate plans of all member states should take emissions from those sectors into account. The shipping industries must also be brought under the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS).

An urgent phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, both direct and indirect, by 2020 was another of the demands made by the parliament. This was along with a call for member states to double their funding for the international Green Climate Fund, with MEPs pointing out that the total of contributions promised by developed countries does not meet the current goal of $100bn per year.

How have the declarations been received?

The proposal for the declarations was put forward by French MEP Pascal Canfin who is chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and a member of Renew Europe, the parliament's largest centrist group which includes the UK’s Liberal Democrats.

The fact that Europe is the first continent to declare climate and environmental emergency, just before COP25, when the new Commission takes office, and three weeks after Donald Trump confirmed the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, is a strong message sent to citizens and the rest of the world.
Pascal Canfin, Member of the European Parliament

Mr Canfin drew attention to the EU Commission’s upcoming publication of the Green Deal in December and said he would “be vigilant to ensure that the political proposals made in the coming weeks are in line with the urgency to find common solutions to the unfolding climate and environmental crisis.”

He said the parliament was “meeting the expectations of European citizens”.

A 2019 poll found that around 71% of UK citizens agreed that climate change would be more important than the effects of Brexit in the long run. The majority, 61% of respondents, believed the British government was not doing enough to tackle climate change.

A recent survey of 27 EU member states (excluding the UK) by the Bertelsmann Foundation found more people considered environmental protection as the most urgent issue.

EUstaff4climate, a group of EU civil servants, has applauded the declaration, which was one of the demands the group made in a petition set up to put pressure on their political masters.

This is an important first step, next we need concrete actions for unprecedented change now.
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