EU leaders are prioritising climate heroism over ambitious policies

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

These crucial decisions can’t be negotiated behind closed doors, in a hurry, by politicians who care more about public image than public good, writes Adélaïde Charlier and Chloé Mikolajczak [Pierre Kroll]

EU leaders are focused on the spectacle of arriving at the US climate summit on Thursday (22 April) with an agreement on the EU climate law and 2030 target, but risk sacrificing the quality of the legislation, argue Adélaïde Charlier and Chloé Mikolajczak.

Adélaïde Charlier is a youth climate activist and the co-founder of Youth for Climate. Chloé Mikolajczak is an environmental justice activist and the host of The Burning Case, a podcast that aims to link EU politics and sustainability.

As most eyes are focused on the Leaders Summit on climate hosted by President Joe Biden on Earth Day, some European leaders are so eager to arrive at the summit with a deal on the EU Climate Law that they might be ready to cut corners and agree on a version far below expectations and needs, just to look like “climate heroes” – once again at the expense of people and areas most affected by climate breakdown and who are already feeling its effects.

But let’s rewind a little: the climate law is a key element of the Green Deal and Europe’s climate ambitions. For the very first time, it aims to create a law on the Union’s objective of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest. One of the key aspects to reach this 2050 objective is to have a new emission reduction target for 2030 that would be ambitious enough to have a chance to stay below 1.5°C warming, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Yet, despite science saying that in order to do so, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 65% by 2030 compared to levels in 1990 is the bare minimum, the European Parliament voted in favour of 60% and the European Council agreed last December on a 55% net emission reduction target. “Net” in climate policy means we not only foresee actual emissions reduction but we also plan on forests, croplands, wetlands to act as carbon sinks and absorb some of these emissions, which means the actual reduction target is lower and actually closer to 52.8%.

Since December, no progress has been made on increasing this target, despite the fact that a watered down target not only harms the credibility of Europe as a “climate leader”, it also sends an extremely condescending message to the climate activists around the world and the governments of the countries, mostly in the Global South that is already suffering from climate change.

According to the Climate Action Tracker, even if we were to meet current pledges and targets, the temperature would rise 2.3 and 2.6 degrees. This would be a disaster for all of us and especially for the most vulnerable countries in the world where the consequences of climate breakdown are already being felt the strongest.

Today, this target will be discussed, probably for the last time, between European institutions before being adopted. Why the rush? Because as French President Emmanuel Macron and so-called go to person on EU climate, Frans Timmermans, are meeting President Biden on Earth Day, they’d like to be able to present a concrete objective with the hope of pressuring the US into increasing its own ambition. Even if it means agreeing on a weak 55% emissions reduction target by 2030.

We can’t deny that the US needs an electric shock to step up their game and return to the climate fight. But this should not happen at the expense of Europe’s climate ambition which inspires so many countries around the world. By favouring a quick but weak deal, our leaders are once again showing that to them, public image matters more than real commitments, politics takes precedence over a liveable future.

We’re already experiencing a planet 1.2°C warmer than pre-industrial times. Science tells us that we need to do everything we can to stay within 1.5°C warming to avoid catastrophic consequences, not only for plants and animals but for humans too. Climate justice is not only a question of self-preservation, it’s also a matter of solidarity and moral imperative. Whatever is decided in Europe affects the rest of the world.

These crucial decisions can’t be negotiated behind closed doors, in a hurry, by politicians who care more about public image than public good. As young climate activists, we’re ready to hold accountable policymakers that are failing to take ambitious action today, both at European and national levels.

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