Wednesday

19th Sep 2018

MEPs snub Pacific leader, but strengthen climate measures

  • President Hilda Heine (l) spoke about the devastating effects of climate change on her country, but few MEPs showed up to listen in person (Photo: European Parliament)

President Hilda Heine of the climate-threatened Marshall Islands appealed to the EU to increase the fight against climate change, but only around 7 percent of MEPs turned up to listen.

The Marshall Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, is one of the inhabited places most vulnerable to climate change in the world – several speakers on Wednesday called the nation the “front line” of climate change.

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“Some people … think it is impossible to achieve the goals in Paris. That is to say that my country cannot be saved,” Heine said in a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday (14 June), referring to the international climate agreement signed in Paris at the end of 2015.

“It is impossible to say how it feels... to see commentary that forecast the oblivion of our homeland,” she added.

EUobserver counted 50 MEPs - out of 751 - in the plenary hall of the EU parliament in Strasbourg, when she gave her speech.

At one point, at least fifteen of the fifty in the room were looking at their smartphones and tablets.

French MEP Francoise Grossetete, from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), was among the minority listening to Heine.

“Her speech was very good,” she told EUobserver. “She was so interesting.”

She said that it was “emotional” to listen to Heine's pleas and that she was “not happy” about the low attendance by her colleagues. “It's not very polite from this parliament. But I think that our colleagues did not know that she was here.”

The address was however part of the official agenda of this week's plenary session since at least last week.

'Shameful'

Bas Eickhout, a Dutch left-wing MEP from the Greens group thought the empty room was "quite shameful".

“Usually when we have official guests from another country, more people show up,” he said, noting that a reason could be that it was planned for the middle of the morning, instead of as the first point on the agenda at 9AM.

Heine's address was the opening of a debate on US president Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

“In the eighteen months or so since the historic Paris agreement was reached, the world seems to have been turned upside down more than once,” said president Heine.

She said Trump's decision was “at best misguided”, but also “disappointing and confusing for those of us … that believed in US global leadership”.

Heine noted that the US cannot withdraw from the Paris agreement yet – this can only take place in three years time. She said the world has a “duty” to use those three years to convince Trump to change his mind.

“I'm cautiously optimistic,” she said.

The Pacific leader also thanked the EU for its financial contributions to help developing nations reduce emissions and prepare for the adverse affects of climate change.

She called European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete - who were both present in the room - “climate warriors”.

Heine also urged the EU to do more.

She asked the EU to come with a strategy to reduce emissions beyond 2030, to help fill the financial gap in a climate fund now that the US is pulling out, and to reduce emissions in the shipping and aviation sectors.

Emissions reductions

While most MEPs chose not to attend Heine's speech, they did support, en masse, new emission reduction goals for sectors like transport, agriculture, and buildings.

On Wednesday afternoon, 534 MEPs voted in favour of a piece of legislation that lays down targets for the period of 2021 to 2030.

The EU parliament supported the commission's proposal, but not before proposing some stricter requirements.

It added a requirement saying “each member state shall, for each year from 2031 to 2050, continue to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions”.

MEPs also agreed to add that emissions reductions carried out before 2020 should be taken into account, so that countries have an incentive to undertake further emissions reductions, sooner rather than later.

Forest compensations

They also widened the definition of what natural resources, such as trees, member states may count to compensate for overshooting their emission reduction targets.

The EU commission had proposed that countries emitting too many greenhouse gases could use natural resources to compensate for it. The commission said this could be done through “deforested land, afforested land, managed cropland and managed grassland”.

MEPs now propose that this compensation can be achieved with a net CO2 removal from “land use, land use change and forestry” - a broader definition that includes forest management.

Some environmental lobby groups say this broader definition creates a loophole, but it will depend on how another piece of legislation in the legislative pipeline plays out – on emissions removal from land use.

The EU parliament gave Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy a mandate to begin negotiating with national governments on a final compromise.

However, member states will first need to come to a common position. The issue is on the agenda at the environmental ministerial meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, but a deal is not yet expected.

A progress report published earlier this month said: "the delegations' positions on the key issues remain divided".

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