We are Adélaïde Charlier and Anuna De Wever. Two climate activists that launched the youth for climate movement in Belgium, and now interns in the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament. We are writing about what we have learned about the European Green Deal, including discussions with policymakers, politicians and activists.
Issue 2: Responding to a crisis: climate and corona
Read Issue 1: All about the climate law here.
The European Green Deal is a pact that was launched this year by the European Commission. It aims to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. According to the European Commission, the European Green Deal is the most ambitious set of policy measures to combat climate change that has ever been tried in the EU. It should enable European citizens and businesses to benefit from a transition from a carbon-heavy and polluting industry and economy, to one that is both green and sustainable. Their key policies range from ambitiously cutting emissions, to investing in cutting-edge research and innovation in green technology, to preserving Europe’s natural environment.
This all sounds good on paper, but will it be enough? Already, with the onset of the new coronavirus crisis, the European Green Deal has come under attack from certain voices who argue that we cannot afford the Green Deal and that we should forget about it to focus on relaunching our economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people feeling the worst effects of the crisis are the most vulnerable in our society, including the homeless, refugees, the elderly, people with disabilities, and women experiencing domestic abuse. The crisis is also hitting the self-employed, artists and culture-creators and people running small businesses disproportionately. Not to mention workers in our healthcare systems and nursing care homes. The measures taken to protect us are more severe than we have seen in our lifetimes, and, while necessary, the impact is likely resonate through our lives and our society for years to come. After the worst is over, we will need a strong and socially-conscious European Green Deal more than ever.
In our second blog (read the first one here), we’ll be exploring why Europe needs a Green Deal so badly, how we can use it to recover from the coronavirus crisis and what is at stake for us and for the planet if we fail.
The link between the coronavirus and climate change
In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, many governments in Europe and the rest of the world are taking extreme measures. Schools are closed, companies are asking their employees to work from home and cancel meetings, bars, restaurants and cinemas are closed, recreational and sports activities are cancelled, and private events are banned. People in China, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, the USA and many other countries are living in sudden social and economic lockdown that none of us would have thought possible two months ago.
So, why is this?
Of course, our leaders heard the urgency explained by scientists and experts, worked together to measure the risks involved and took a decision. And this decision was made fast. The health crisis was urgent. The authorities clearly felt that inaction would be politically, economically and socially worse than enforcing preventive measures. The threat of Covid-19 is serious and it seems that governments and citizens are reacting seriously – and this is a good thing.
From one day to the next, a large part of the world agreed to change their habits. And while it is tough to live under such restrictions, and governments should be doing much more to support those who are worst affected, we should all take a moment to appreciate the positive, compassionate and socially-inclusive reaction of so many of us in the face of such adversity. Solidarity has never been so present in our society. Community groups are organising meals for the elderly who are stuck in their homes. Citizens are donating to charities to support women trapped with abusive partners at home. Children’s authors are reading their stories online to children who can’t attend schools and nurseries. These reactions inspire hope.
What we can learn from this is that when faced with a crisis – whether climate or corona – people will work together and do the seemingly impossible to overcome it. To fight climate change, we need to fundamentally change our society: the way we consume, how we travel, how we produce and dispose of goods, how we power our lives. Some people will be affected more by this kind of large-scale change, and we need to make sure the right support and funding is put in place to protect those people. As with the coronavirus crisis, no-one should be left behind.
This is where the European Green Deal comes in. A real Green Deal has to be much more than just policies for climate and environmental protection, transforming our industry and investing in clean, green technology. We need it to be a catalyst for social transformation that tackles inequality. The changes we need to make our economic system sustainable will affect us all differently, and the European Green Deal should be there to balance this out. It should be an engine for social justice, equal opportunities, increased public financing and excellent social security for all. With this in place, the Green Deal would also provide security and stability for any further crises like the one we are currently facing.
We now know that if people are well-informed and understand the measures taken, if we are included in the solution, if we are not left by the side of the road, we will accept significant changes to our lives and lifestyles in order to face a crisis together.
The climate crisis is looming. Urgent action must be taken now. The coronavirus crisis has shown us that governments who are in denial or who are taking a soft approach so they don’t disturb the economy and people’s lives are simply wrong. It’s time they took the climate scientists just as seriously as they do the health experts, and were honest with their citizens about the severity of the situation we’re all facing. Governments need to show solidarity and take decisive climate measures.
Is climate change a new crisis?
In 1979, the Charney report commissioned by the White House announced that the globe was warming and that human activities were impacting our climate. Telegrams and warnings were sent between the United States and United Nations on climate change. Warning signals were sent out by the United Nations at the First World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979 addressing a ‘warming trend’, disasters for food production and extreme weather events that could be caused by burning fuels. In 1988, The New York Times showed a graph of global temperature rise since 1880. As earlyas 1965, The New York Times published an article on the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
Nothing in all new studies published in the next 40 years contradicted those conclusions. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ) only confirmed the analysis. And, although experts and scientist have warned us about climate change for decades, it is only now that the world is starting to take it seriously. Now that we only have 8 years in our carbon budget to stay below the 1,5 degrees of climate warming!
So why is climate change only now seen as a crisis?
It makes us angry to read these things. How come the Charney report was forgotten? 40 years ago, scientists accurately predicted climate change. How come proof of global temperature rise didn’t ring any alarm bells? It could have saved us a lot of time and it would have given us a much higher chance of having a safe future. It is very clear that, since the 1980s, the oil and gas and conservative lobbies have spared no efforts to make the debate as confusing and insignificant as possible.
Every year, the world’s five largest publicly-owned oil and gas companies spend approximately $200 million on lobbying designed to control, delay or block binding climate-motivated policy.
The media were also very slow with reporting on climate change. Except for a few scattered news reports, it has only recently been deemed worthy of being front page news.
Even today, there are huge social media campaigns financed by lobbies that want to keep the fossil fuel industry running.The biggest polluters and the most powerful world leaders minimize climate change. This makes it easier for everyone to follow and turn a blind eye to the real problem. Climate change is really big and hard to grasp. It is the ‘inconvenient truth’ people don’t want to be reminded of or confronted with.
What are the consequences of this inaction?
Extreme weather events
Since 2015, we’ve been experiencing the hottest years measured globally since the mid-19th century:
Sub-Saharan African countries have experienced more frequent and more intense climate extremes over the past decades. A 2 to 3°C rise in global temperature would lead to harvests in Africa being halved. In fact, more so as the population is set to double by 2050. West Africa has been identified as a climate change hotspot, with climate change likely to lessen crop yields and production, threatening food security. The western part of Southern Africa isset to become drier, with increasing drought frequency and number of heat waves toward theend of the 21st Century.
In 2018, Japan had more than 200 deaths caused by rain and floods, and was hit just two weeks later with a deadly heatwave. In recent years, Europe has also experienced extraordinary heat waves with forest fires causing dozens of deaths. In the Netherlands, some sections of the motorway literally had to be closed because the asphalt was melting.
In 2017, climatic events such as hurricanes and forest fires in the United States caused $307 billion worth of damage.
The number of extreme weather events has more than doubled in less than 30 years according to insurance companies. According to a Météo France weather model, we will suffer from record temperatures of 50°C – 55°C by the end of the century. Human bodies can cope with one heatwave, even a second, but the third one risks being fatal. In the second half of this century, heatwaves could cause 50 times more deaths than currently. These deadly humid heat waves could kill people in good health within 6 hours, because vital organs simply stop working if the body’s cooling system gets disrupted by outside temperature rise.
Human rights violations
When we were in Latin America recently, we had the chance to go in the Amazon Rainforest, the largest rainforest in the world. The forest provides water for the whole continent and is home to more than 25 million people. It is the lungs of the Earth. Without it, global temperatures would skyrocket. At a summit of Brazilian scientists, activists and representatives from indigenous communities, we were shown a map of the forest where we could clearly see a correlation between the protection of the forest and the villages of local communities. Where the forest lives, the people live. In other words, if you want to protect the forest, protect the people that live in it. Unfortunately, today their rights are being violated. More than 137 indigenous people were killed last year because they tried to speak out and save their lands. Companies have set up polluting industries in the most precious place on earth. This also has an impact on the world’s biodiversity. According to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, in the last 40 years, we have lost 52% of planetary biodiversity and lost 58% of vertebrates on land, sea and air.
International trade and deforestation
The decisions that are being taken in Europe have an impact on the other side of the world. We should feel responsible every time we establish a trade agreement. One example of this is the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement. This agreement would lower export tariffs of beef, soy and wood between the EU and several South American countries. The problem is that meat could come from illegal deforestation areas, which could accelerate deforestation and amplify the destruction of our Amazon. Massive plantations of soy is also one of the leading sources of deforestation. Shockingly, the agreement has no legally binding environmental standards. The Mercosur trade deal still needs to be ratified by the national Parliaments of all EU Member States. We still have a chance to stop it.
The United Nations warned that a “climate apartheid” would divide the world between those who have the means to adapt to higher temperatures and those who don’t. There are already global conflicts that we can link to water scarcity. What will Europe do when faced with more than half a billion climate refugees?
Bill Gates has stated that Syria’s instability can be explained by their decreased agricultural productivity. In 2011, agriculture was hit hard and more than 1.5 million fled rural areas for the cities, escalating civil unrest. This large-scale inequality might eventually build up to a climate war. Although Sub-Saharan African countries emit less than 1% of the global emissions, they’re going to suffer the most and they already are.
Europe is responsible for a bulk of CO2 emissions, but we are privileged in that we are not yet having to face the worst.. We have a duty to stand up for people in the Global South and fight for them. This is not only a fight for our future; this is about the current lives of millions of people.
Can we still avoid the climate crisis?
To answer this question we interviewed Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele, a Belgian academic climatologist and a professor of Environmental Sciences at the UC Louvain (Belgium). As a former Vice-Chair of the IPCC, he is one of the forerunners of climate change mitigation through strong decrease of fossil fuel consumption.
Can we avoid the catastrophe? Can we get out of this situation?
“We can look at this from different aspects. As a climatologist, in terms of reaction in time, the first thing to be done is to be better informed. More than anything we hear about COVID-19 today. But we have to keep in mind that the number of people that will be touched by the climate crisis will be much larger. (I am of course not undermining COVID-19. It is very serious and needs to be addressed).
It is important to act. The youth movement is extremely important in the role of information-sharing and awareness-raising. Once we have reached a certain level of public consciousness, we will the have the capacity to reach CO2 neutrality. This means no more CO2 emissions than what the oceans and nature can absorb. Everything needs to change. The way we use energy, eat, consume and produce… It’s almost a revolution. This applies to all sectors and the entire world.”
Will technology be part of the solution?
“Of course, but it is not the one and only solution. Technology can certainly be of help to increase energy production and consumption efficiency. But this will not suffice. With improvements in technology, you will often see the gains minimised by a rebound effect. The only way to counter this effectively is to fundamentally change our society, our habits and our economy and not rely on technology to reduce our emissions. To undertake this transition, we need change in our everyday life.”
How do we fund the transition towards a carbon free society?
“I am not an expert in financing but I do know that 4 billion euros are spent every year outside of theEU to buy fossil fuel. If we could reorient this money as fast as possible it could save us a lot of money.
The transition will indeed be very expensive. But let’s not forget that we have to put a part of investments anyways into renewing sources of energies like, to renew a power station into a new one costs us money… So at that point, when you have to change it anyways, it is important to opt for renewable and clean energy. We also need to reduce our consumption of energy by changing the way we travel, we live and eat. Then we also need to consider the fact that in the long run the costs of reactions far outweigh the costs of actions.
The transition will indeed be very expensive. But let’s not forget that we already have to invest in renewing our current sources of energy. It costs us money to renew existing power stations. When you have to change it anyway, that is the point when it is important to opt for renewable and clean energy. We also need to reduce our consumption of energy by changing the way we travel, we live and eat. In the long run, the cost of reaction far outweighs the cost of action.”
So, what now?
There are so many possible solutions to climate change, but there are two things stopping us:
a lack of information on the facts and the science of climate change
We hope we’ve managed to address the first one somewhat with this report. Climate crisis evidence is overwhelming, and its consequences are terrible. The moment people actually realise what’s going on, they feel obligated to act. There is no closing your eyes anymore.
But then there is fear.
The scenario of a collapse is very easy to imagine. A financial crisis, insecurity, change… But one very important thing to remember is that there is no alternative. No alternative at all. We’ve seen huge battles like the ‘apartheid’ battle. But we’ve also seen the end of it. We’ve seen the Berlin wall, but we also saw it come down. We put men on the moon and we ended World Wars. This is not like the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. We can change the outcome of this crisis. But, as Albert Einstein put it, it’s insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.
Let’s question the fundamentals of our system and rebuild the pillars it’s built on. Not only because it’s the only way to save humanity, but also because we deserve a better world.
We are Adélaïde Charlier and Anuna De Wever. Two climate activists that launched the youth for climate movement in Belgium, internationally known as Fridays For Future. We struck for weeks and weeks, for more than a year. We worked together with scientists, politicians and activists. We recently sailed to Latin America to attend the CoP in Chile and to understand the threat to the Amazon Rainforest and the Global South facing the direct consequences of climate change.
After this, we felt like it was time for our activism to evolve and for us to get closer to the decision making process at the European level. We started an internship in the Greens/EFA Group in February 2020 and decided to write a regular blog to share information on the preparation of the European Green Deal within the Parliament.
We want to build the bridge between the climate activists in the streets and the politicians in the European Parliament. We would like to offer young activists more information about the internal trade-offs to pressure the right points, and debate with our politicians to show them there are millions of people all around the world ready and waiting for change.