Young people want a green economy in Europe

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

The EU should reduce its carbon emissions by 30% by 2020 and complete its transition to a low-carbon economy, argue young environmental campaigners from 'Push Europe', demanding an inheritance that is "clean, safe and equitable".

This op-ed was written by Ellie Hopkins (UK), Johanna Lakso (Sweden), Inna Datsiuk (Ukraine), Ugo Guarnacci (Italy) and Tomáš Botlík (Czech Republic), environmental campaigners and 'youth climate leaders' for Push Europe in their respective countries.

"2011 is a year in which young people around the world are finding their voices and making them heard. The signs are everywhere, from the revolutions of the Arab Spring to teenagers suing their government in the US over global warming, [or] to protests against mass youth unemployment in Madrid.

Don't let anyone tar young people with the brush of apathy or laziness. We are speaking out for our futures – for better job prospects, and a safer, cleaner world. With youth unemployment across the EU at 20% and rising, the need for bold thinking is urgent.

Last week saw the UK finally set ambitious targets on emissions reductions, accepting the Climate Change Committee's recommendations and putting us firmly on the path to a reduction of 60% by 2030. Although not a water-tight commitment, this is cause to be optimistic.

However, in the wider context of the economic recession, Europe as a whole needs to be much more ambitious when it comes to cutting carbon. We stand at a fork in the road, a moment of opportunity when the two threads of the economy and climate change are more closely intertwined than ever.

Our elected leaders can choose to do nothing, change nothing, and stay as we are on a path to increasingly limited growth as our natural resources dwindle, or they can choose to simultaneously face the problems of today and ensure justice between generations.

We are the generation that will have to face the consequences in years to come if our leaders make the wrong policy choices now. We are young people determined to be heard by today's politicians, determined to make them aware of their responsibility to the generations of tomorrow.

We urge the EU to be bold and to sign up to reducing carbon emissions by at least 30% domestically. To achieve this we want Europe to build a green economy at the heart of which lies a commitment to clean energy, sustainability and a reduction in social inequality.

According to a report by the Potsdam Institute and Oxford University shifting to a green economy will lead to six million additional jobs and the EU's economy would be boosted by €620 billion. What's more, a green economy can create positive change across all sectors.

This low-carbon economy will encompass everything from the way urban planners incorporate green spaces that increase public safety and wellbeing, to children being served locally sourced produce at school – thus supporting the local economy and improving health. The new economy would mean less pressure on our health services thanks to reduced rates of lung disease and obesity. It would also mean lower dependence on foreign energy supplies and a lower foreign aid bill because we wouldn't be paying the price for the devastation caused by our addiction to fossil fuels.

There is still time for the EU to become a leader in the clean energy sector. There is still time to ensure we don't get left behind by India and China. But there is not much time.

Not only should the EU be leading the charge at the UN for a new deal on climate change to replace the ageing Kyoto Protocol, it should also take the lead in doing what is necessary domestically, and doing it now.

Our vision isn't over ambitious, or even radical; it's common sense.

What is more, it's one we're coming together to stand up for.

Over the next few months, as part of the campaign to Push Europe to raise its ambition in tackling climate change, young people will call on European leaders for a transfer to cleaner energy and opportunities for green jobs.

As young people we demand our inheritance to be clean, safe and equitable."

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