This decade should be ‘Roaring Twenties of climate action’, von der Leyen says

Europe will be the first net-zero continent, but it shouldn’t be the only one, said von der Leyen [JOHANNA GERON / EPA-EFE]

Europe has the opportunity to lead the global shift towards net-zero emissions and reap the rewards of the green transformation, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at an event on Wednesday (24 March).

“The next 10 years must be a turning point, first and foremost for global CO2 emissions,” said von der Leyen, who spoke at a conference on ‘the Make-or-Break Decade’ for climate action.

“Today, global emissions are still rising. And this has to change as a matter of urgency,” she added.

“I want this decade to be the Roaring Twenties of climate action and climate investment. Europe must lead this change. It’s our last chance to stop climate change,” said von der Leyen.

The event, which featured speakers from around the world, looked at reducing global emissions and how finance can be used in the EU and abroad to help adapt to climate change.

Change should not simply be seen as a necessity, but also an opportunity, said von der Leyen, outlining the public funding that the EU is using to boost a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are on the edge of a transformation similar to the digital revolution of 40 years ago,” said the Commission president. “We need an investment revolution that goes well beyond the public sector to catch the green opportunities of the 2020s,” she added, saying that the EU should maximise the effect of every euro spent both in terms of environmental impact as well as innovation and job creation.

The last year has seen a surge of increased climate commitments from across the globe. While these are not enough to get the world on track for a 1.5°C pathway, it is a significant shift in the way the world views climate change.

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EU member states will need to step up their efforts on renewables and energy efficiency in order to meet the bloc’s updated climate and energy targets for 2030.

Europe: the champion of a Global Green Deal

“I have little doubt that Europe can and will manage this transition and achieve its goal of net-zero by 2050, even if it still requires a lot of hard work,” said Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank, which has laid out a roadmap to shift towards green spending in an effort to become the EU’s “climate bank”.

Although 50% of the world’s emitters – the EU, US and China – have set out net-zero emission pathways, Hoyer also warned about the other half, including the world’s poorest countries, which are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

“Europe needs to become a champion for a Global Green Deal and, for that, our foreign policy and climate policy must become two sides of the same coin,” Hoyer said.

One way to achieve this is through trade policy. The EU-Japan trade deal in 2018 was the first to include a climate chapter, and the recent EU-UK trade agreement has a non-regression clause ensuring that neither party goes back on their climate commitments.

But other trade agreements like the Mercosur deal have faced criticism from countries like Austria and France, which have refused to sign it because of concerns over deforestation in the Amazon.

“Trade policy must play its full part in the green transformation of the EU and the global economy. We should leverage our global influence to support this goal,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, executive vice-president of the European Commission in charge of the economy.

“Europe will fully use trade agreements to accelerate cooperation on climate action, biodiversity and sustainable food systems,” he assured, saying the Commission “will include Paris Climate commitments as an essential element of trade agreements”.

Speakers also addressed how to boost international funding for the poorest countries, which have done the least to cause climate change but often face the largest impacts. These countries have little financial power to adapt to global warming or shift to greener technologies and are often burdened with historical debt.

“We need to understand that there are many, many nations on this planet who suffer greatly from climate change, but who have very little responsibility in creating the problem and have very little means to adapt to the new situation,” said Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s executive vice-president in charge of the European Green Deal.

If this year’s UN climate summit should succeed, major emitters need to clearly commit finance and technology to helping countries who need it most, Timmermans added.

While the world’s richest nations have committed to providing financial aid to developing countries, objectives have so far not been met, and some like France, have been accused of inflating their numbers.

Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, reiterated the call for richer countries to provide these funds, saying half of it at least should go to adaptation.

“We are in a make-or-break moment,” Mohammed said. “In 2021, governments will make decisions that will shape the future for people and planet,” she added, expressing hope that Europe’s leadership on climate action has “contributed to a global momentum that is irreversible”.

Rich nations accused of inflating climate adaptation finance figures

Rich nations have exaggerated how much funding they provided to help the world’s poorest countries cope with climate change impacts such as flooding and drought, according to analysis by charity Care International.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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