Climate change: a call for a united Europe to act

Posted on 15. December 2016

by Marta Remacha Recio

marta-remacha-recio-modifiedCoral bleaching; record-breaking temperatures; the Artic melting; the El Niño phenomenon becoming stronger; despite the success of the Paris Agreement one year ago, scientific evidence of the worsening impact of climate change is piling up. 2016 has even left us with a clear-cut evidence of the irreversibility of some damages: Melomys rubicola, a small rodent endemic to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, holds the dubious honour of becoming the first mammal to be wiped out by human-induced climate change. The fight against global warming has entered a critical phase, which needs a united Europe ready to make the difference.

The failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation was found to be one of the risks with the greatest potential global impact in 2016, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report. It is not only an environmental concern: global warming is exacerbating other risks such as water and food crises, which are likely to provoke large-scale migration, social inequality, governmental instability and insecurity. The consequences of a 2°C temperature rise might be catastrophic, reversing many of the advances of the 20th century. In Europe, climate change is one of the biggest threats to human health and to achieving sustainable development. Peace, prosperity and democracy –the values of the European project– could be called into question.

A European answer is required.

“Climate change is bigger than any one country, any one election”. These words, spoken by the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete during the recent  COP22 meeting in Marrakech, show how climate change, as many of the challenges of our time, cannot be solved at a national level. The global dimension of climate change requires a global solution. To advance common goals and take the lead in international negotiations, multilevel organisations such as the EU are needed.

Acting under the European Union umbrella will benefit its members in many aspects. No European country alone has the strength nor the resources necessary to address the global threats and seize the opportunities. Conversely, European Union countries together represent almost half a billion citizens and form the third economic power in the world. Their investment in development cooperation is higher than the rest of the world combined. And the EU is the first trading partner and the first foreign investor for almost every country in the globe.

All this has permitted the EU to raise climate change awareness and encourage action amongst its partners, inside and outside of Europe. The European External Action Service (EEAS) played a pivotal role in the run-up to the highly-celebrated Paris Agreement, “the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal”. Similarly, the conviction of Brussels has pushed each member state to set national targets, more ambitious than the ones they would have set out if the decision had been solely taken at a domestic level.

However, the EU cannot rest on its laurels. Climate change mitigation requires the EU to reinforce its global leadership, not only within negotiations, but also by its actions. The conference in Marrakech has shown that, after one year, not much progress has been made on Modalities, Procedures and Guidelines (MPG) to operationalise the Paris Agreement. The discussions have been shelved until the next climate talks in 2017 (COP 23), while global warming effects are intensifying worldwide. In Europe, the recently published Winter Package, although comprehensive and coherent in its measures, has been questioned for not backing transport decarbonisation, setting unambitious renewable energy objectives and integrating synthetic fuels. Meanwhile, developing countries are sceptical about the CO2 cuts, and see the Paris Agreement as another way the West imposes limitations on their economic production and therefore their development.

There is no more time for discussion: action is needed. The European community has in climate change mitigation and adaptation a golden opportunity to seize, enabling it to foster employment, energy efficiency, health and security. European countries together have the capability, the momentum and the duty to accomplish ambitious targets and lead the international community by example. The extinction of the Melomys rubicola might have been the last call for Europe to act: it happened 15,000 km away, but the next irreversible damage might be closer to home. It is time for us to walk the talk.