The future of Europe is uncertain in the face of global climate change, and the risks of socio-economic instability this will bring. In order for European institutions to uphold their moral responsibility to represent what matters to young people, they must make the political choices to build a low carbon European economy, write Louisa Casson and Camilla Born.
Louisa Casson and Camilla Born are members of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, an environmental pressure group.
For young people 2013 begun with the sobering reality that 5.5 million 15-25 year olds were unemployed across Europe. We are the generation bearing the brunt of economic crisis brought about by our governments’ current high carbon growth model. For the first time in a hundred years, young Europeans are expected to have a lower standard of living than our parents. Consistently young people are removed from public discourse, from intervening in democratic institutions and the media.
Now, amidst an atmosphere of distrust in public institutions, Europe is on the brink of failing its young people by trapping us into a continuous cycle of climate and economic crisis. However there is a choice to be made, will 2014 be the year for climate ambition?
At the heart of this question lies a disconnect between young people and our representatives. The difference between the economic vision of European institutions and the vision of young people is stark. European institutions outline a short-termist, growth driven economic model based on numbers and figures that does not prioritises quality of life. A growing chorus of young Europeans are working inside a different economic paradigm that considers the long-term and values democratic principles in action not just rhetoric. Take note, this is what the European union was founded for.
The economic crisis has left 1 in 5 young Europeans unemployed today. The impacts of unemployment are far reaching, if your development is put on hold where do you turn for support? If we then consider the millions who are in conditions of underemployment we see an even more worrying picture. If we do not invest in young people, we fail to invest in the future of European communities.
Our generation is having to reimagine prosperity and security in the face of the unprecedented threat of climate change – while our governments and the institutions of the European Union remain locked into short-sighted decision making. They are content to stay within the closed circuit of boom and bust economics, their vision limited by political election cycles. Thinking short-term confines politics to little more than maintaining business as usual. Europe’s politics no longer has the capacity, let alone belief, to make choices that deliver for the needs of its people.
How institutions choose to spend their money is at the heart of these political choices. The economic pathway Europe decides to pursue is emblematic of its political priorities and defines its political identity within the world. Europe cannot escape what is facing us. The future of Europe is uncertain in the face of global climate change, and the risks of socio-economic instability this will bring. In order for European institutions to uphold their moral responsibility to represent what matters to young people, they must make the political choices to build a low carbon European economy.
The economy that our parents and the generation of European policy makers have imagined for us do not fulfil the needs of Europe’s young people. However, the challenges we face open up new avenues. The climate challenge has forced us to rethink the assumptions which form the foundation of our economy. We know for example, that the continued use of fossil fuels is not compatible with a world that anyone wants to live in, let alone our generation. Young people across Europe are forging a pathway based on decentralised economic and political priorities that deliver for the community they serve, for generations to come.
Europe needs to join the dots. Its institutions must take a rigorous approach that considers climate as a systemic risk that impacts upon economies and communities. The approach that young people are jobless statistics will not deliver a sustainable, prosperous Europe. We need to open greater intergenerational dialogues which make the choice to secure our futures, and which turn Europe away from locking in economic, social and climate risks for our generation.
Barroso and his Commission can do this by ensuring that they deliver for Europe’s people by making ambition on the 2030 climate and energy targets the only option. A 40% reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions in the Commission’s January white paper is unacceptably low. It is not in line with science and will not move Europe away from the economic norm that is failing our generation. A 40% target opens up yet more threatening risks for our generation: a global spiral downwards in climate action and devastating climatic and economic impacts throughout our lives.
In his final months as President of the European Commission, the time is now for Barroso to join the pathway away from crisis, to recognise the value of young people beyond their economic worth. To achieve this, Barroso's Commission must define a clear and credible way forward for European climate ambition. Securing a coherent climate and energy package for the next 17 years. Barroso must use his influence to build on, rather than stifle, the progressive leadership shown by young people across Europe.
This op-ed was written in conjunction with an open letter to President Barroso co-signed by the UK Youth Climate Coalition, CliMates, Jugendbündnis Zukunftsenergie and Push Europe, which calls for the delivery of a greenhouse gas reduction target in line with science and Europe’s historical responsibility of 83% as part of a strong 3 target package.