Time Is Running Out: Europe’s final chance to push for climate action

By Pavel Dostalik.

Europe’s new raison d’être seems to be green. In 2019, Europeans cast their ballots expressing record-high support for parties focused on fighting the climate emergency. The new European Commission made a pledge to take action and turn Europe into the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Commission President von der Leyen unveiled the highly anticipated European Green Deal laying out the transitional process from the Europe of today to a greener, more just, innovative and outspoken Europe. The European Union aims to lead the world in fighting the climate emergency and protecting the environment. Ambitions and visions have been articulated, however that is not enough. There is an urgent need for action, and timing has become a crucial factor.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

In 2020, five years after drafting the Paris Climate Agreement which represented a fundamental step towards a Europe-led commitment to active environmental responsibility, the EU bears the weight of keeping the Paris Agreement principles alive. While the United States under President Trump decided to withdraw from the Agreement, the European Union needs to secure an international coalition broad enough to support the Climate Agreement and actually achieve its implementation. This, however, has not proven to be an easy task — many states have settled for a “wait and see” strategy, expecting a change of leadership in the White House; and others, less willing to carry out the changes envisioned by the deal, have expressed their discontent towards the mounting requirements needed to stop the climate emergency.

After Brazil refused to host COP25, the United Nations Conference on Climate, Spain had to swiftly step in and turn Madrid into the host of what turned out to be the longest-ever COP meeting in December 2019. Despite the amount of time that the representatives of nearly 200 governments spent negotiating, the outcomes failed to live up to the expectations. While COP24 in Poland in 2018 resulted in an agreement of the international community on how to implement parts of the Paris Climate Agreement, via the so-called Paris Rulebook, decisions on some of the most contested aspects of the Agreement were postponed. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement was one of them. The article focuses on international carbon markets that would allow for a ‘cost-effective’ way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally, operating with a capped volume of greenhouse gases that can be emitted and a system of emission allowances. This, however, requires a common position on how to ‘price’ or transform CO2 into carbon credits that can be traded between states, organisations and corporations. The Madrid talks brought no resolution either.

And so, the pressure shifts to 2020. In November, Glasgow will host COP26, a meeting that could make or break the Paris Agreement. The European Union has taken action and introduced its European Green Deal and European Climate Law. The Climate Law, providing a framework for achieving the ‘climate-neutrality’ by 2050 relative to 1990 levels, will launch a new “impact assessed plan to increase the 2030 target to at least 50% and towards 55% compared to 1990 levels” by September. A number of fiery reactions have already appeared throughout the EU, on one hand condemning ‘green fanaticism’ and legally forcing states to comply with climate regulations, and on the other hand describing the law as a ‘surrender’ and ‘empty words’. Either way, introducing the 2030 targets in September may be too late – this time, timing is crucial. The European Union has a chance to demonstrate its determination for a real, sustainable change — an important gesture for other key players before the second half of 2020, a decisive time for global climate change. Indeed, September will see Chinese President Xi holding talks with EU27, just a month before the critical COP26 meeting in Glasgow. The Union therefore has an opportunity to boost its negotiating power and global climate influence if it not only introduces its 2030 commitment sooner than September, but also outlines a more ambitious kick-off for the ‘journey towards a climate-neutral Europe.’ In a letter sent to Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of the European Green Deal, 12 European environment ministers “[encouraged] the European Commission to present the 2030 Climate Target Plan as soon as possible and by June 2020 at the latest in order to advance discussions in a timely manner.” If the European Union, aspiring to galvanize international political momentum to fight the climate emergency, finds itself drowning in internal disputes and disagreements over how ambitious its actions should be whilst trying to get other key global players onboard later this year, the outcome might be disappointing. Not only is further postponement utterly irresponsible, it might also lead to a collapse of the fragile international coalition willing to take action.

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