EU Commission launches climate pact to bring public on board with Green Deal

Frans Timmermans announcing climate pact [Dati Bendo / EC - Audiovisual Service]

The European Commission launched the Climate Pact on Wednesday (9 December) to raise awareness about global warming and bring the people on board with the green transition.

The pact is an EU-wide initiative that invites people, communities and organisations to share information and debate climate change and environmental degradation. It will focus on four topics – green areas, green mobility, efficient buildings and green skills.

“Within the climate pact, we will bring together people and organisations who want to take action for the planet because in addition to the laws, targets and investment plans, we also need to take action ourselves,” said Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal.

The pact also invites people and organisations to become ambassadors, disseminating knowledge of climate change and leading by example.

This builds on a variety of existing initiatives, including Fridays for Future and the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, where local governments are promoting climate action, often beyond the ambition of national governments.

A Commission survey in 2019 found nine out of ten Europeans saw climate change as a serious problem and felt protecting the environment was personally important for them.

The pact aims to help people become involved in climate action, saying: “The many solutions outlined in the Green Deal can only succeed if designed in a socially just and fair way and if citizens, communities, companies and organisations play their part, alongside government policies and regulation.”

“When it comes to tackling climate change, anyone can take action, and everyone can contribute,” added Timmermans, who will launch the pact during an online event on 16 December, introducing the first ambassadors and discussing upcoming climate pact pledges.

Over the first year, the pact will provide the opportunity to launch and join climate action pledges, exchange experiences and explore joint actions, with a dedicated secretariat to support the implementation of the pact.

This will help the Commission inform and communicate with those active in climate action, as well as people who are hard to reach.

Individual action not enough

While people can adopt more sustainable consumption patterns, individuals cannot do it alone, campaigners say, warning the climate pact should not distract from the required changes in business and industry.

“Any initiative which aims to engage the public on climate issues and motivate action on climate change is a good thing, but there is a danger that this becomes a distraction or an excuse not to do the work we need to do to reduce emissions,” said Colin Roche, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“What we really need to see is action by the political system to make sure that the corporations in particular are not getting in the way of the transition,” he added.

Challenges ahead

The EU could cut about 40% of its emissions on its current pledges, but this requires quick implementation and public uptake of the Green Deal.

Opposition from the local population can sometimes delay clean energy projects. In France for instance, not a single offshore wind farm was built because of legal challenges by the local population who are worried about the impact of wind turbines on fisheries and tourism.

Offshore wind also requires onshore infrastructure, like expanded electricity networks, but in Germany the grid system has not caught up because of local objections to onshore turbines and power lines.

There are also problems with climate change denial, with fears in 2019 that climate had become a new battleground for far-right politicians.

The pact seeks to address this, saying: “Despite the scope and the gravity of climate change, there are still climate deniers, doubters and action delayers. It is important to engage in a constructive and open dialogue based on scientific evidence.”

“Getting the facts right is a key first step to combat disinformation and dispel myths. Talking clearly about nature and climate change is a powerful invitation for action: at home, at school, in the news, and in the workplace,” the Commission says.

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Half of all votes against climate and energy decisions in the European Parliament come from right-wing parties and that number is set to grow as they are expected to score high at the next European elections, according to a study presented in Brussels on Wednesday (27 February).

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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