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15th Dec 2019

MEPs declare 'climate emergency' in Europe

  • MEPs agreed on a resolution meaning that Europe is the first continent to declare a 'climate emergency' (Photo: Takver)

MEPs on Thursday (28 November) approved a resolution declaring a "climate emergency", a few days before the UN climate conference in Madrid (COP25) and three weeks after Donald Trump confirmed the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

The declaration of the climate and environmental emergency was adopted by a coalition of mostly the liberals of Renew Europe, the Greens/EFA, the Socialists (S&D), and some MEPs from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP).

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However, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the majority of EPP members voted against the resolution.

"The fact that Europe is the first continent to declare climate and environmental emergency is a strong message sent to citizens and the rest of the world," said liberal MEP Pascal Canfin, who chairs the parliament's committee on environment, public health and food safety (ENVI) and co-authored the resolution.

But, according to the EPP spokesperson on environment, Peter Liese, "the fake debate about 'climate emergency' is only a smokescreen, which hides the real decisions that we need to take in order to reduce emissions".

MEPs also called on the EU Commission to ensure that all legislative and budgetary proposals are fully aligned to limit global warming to under 1.5 °C - the commitment in which is based on the Paris Agreement of 2016.

However, the co-president of GUE/NGL MEP Manon Aubry went further, pointing out that "if everyone agrees we are in a state of climate emergency, then everyone should also agree that the CAP has to change, that no free trade agreements should be signed and that the MFF [multi-annual financial framework] should focus on an ambitious Green New Deal".

The commission is expected to adopt its first draft on the European Green Deal on 11 December, a communication that will establish the priorities and agenda for the EU to meet the Paris Agreement goals and climate neutrality by 2050.

Emissions cut: the discrepancies

In a separate vote on Thursday, MEPs agreed on committing to cutting 55 percent of emissions by 2030, to become climate-neutral by 2050.

This means the UN secretary-general António Guterres, the EU parliament, the incoming president of the commission Ursula von der Leyen and several EU governments - France, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Latvia, and Finland - support that same target.

However, each political party in the European parliament has been advocating for a different emissions target during the last few months.

The EPP supports a 50 percent emission cut, while the Greens advocate for 65 percent and leftist group GUE/NGL believes that to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, emissions should be reduced by 70 percent in 10 years.

However, a new UN environment programme report released this week concluded that global greenhouse-gas emissions need to fall at least by 7.6 percent each year between 2020 and 2030 to keep temperature rises as close as possible to just 1.5 degrees.

According to the president of S&D, Iratxe Garcia Perez, "we need to act now if we want to correct the trend and extreme weather events, desertification, rising sea and ocean levels and loss of biodiversity".

"Fighting climate warming is no longer an option but an obligation," she added.

On a national level, MEPs called on member states to now consider aviation and shipping in their national contributions plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to at least double their contributions to the international Green Climate Fund - both initiatives under the UN framework on climate change.

The declaration of the climate emergency "must trigger bold, transformative and rapid EU action to end the fossil fuel age," said Susann Scherbarth, a climate justice campaigner for NGO Friends of the Earth Europe.

The first steps, according to the policy adviser for NGO Greenpeace Sebastian Mang, are to "hold fossil fuel companies responsible, invest in rail and public transport, support communities investing in renewable energy, ban pesticides and end subsidies for factory farms".

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