Empty words and slogans will not decarbonise Europe. The EU’s leaders must stop paying lip service to the climate emergency, writes Helena Marschall.
Helena Marschall is an 18-year-old activist with Fridays for Future in Germany.
Overflowing rivers, flooded homes, huge stretches of land left in ruins and a death toll rising by the day. While the Conference for the Future of Europe runs in Brussels unprecedented floods devastate regions in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In the middle of Europe, people are losing their homes, their livelihoods and their family members as a result of the approaching climate crisis. This comes just a short time after heat waves raged through – causing sleepless nights and even deaths as a result of exhaustion and heat strokes.
There was never any doubt that the climate crisis and its effects were already taking hold in Europe as well, if through droughts or forest fires. The recent weather extremes that have left countless dead, however, make the real human consequences of the climate crisis drastically and tragically clear.
What is also clear is that recent events are not random acts of nature that are happening to us by coincidence. Rather they are provoked and made more likely through decades of status quo politics, accelerating the climate crisis through fossil fuel subsidies and lack of real climate action.
Recognizing that past inadequate policies have brought us to this point opens the possibility to break from them. While there is no way to regain what has already been lost, there is still so much to save and we know that swift action can curb an ever greater accumulation of extreme weather events.
Europe is the promise of a free, democratic and equal society transcending national borders. There is an apparent struggle to uphold Europe’s values and human rights are not consistently upheld within the Union.
This is, of course, unacceptable and there is no way a Fortress Europe policy can continue when millions in and outside of the continent have to flee their homes because of an escalating climate crisis.
What is absolutely clear: The foundation for building a more just Union in the future is keeping the promise of Europe in the present. Central to that is limiting the climate crisis with every tool possible.
Too often politicians seem to forget that empty words and fancy slogans like “Fit For 55”, “European Green Deal” or “Next Generation EU” will not decarbonise our society and economy. The snazzy titles cannot cover up the fact that the legislation is lacking when it comes to concrete policies and measures to get to net zero quickly.
In the end, the question of how many disastrous floods and heatwaves we will have to suffer through is decided by how many tenths of a degree we allow the climate to warm.
While officials proclaim they are making Europe the “first climate neutral continent” its climate law does not even meet the Paris Agreement and puts us on a track to over 2 degrees warming.
Globally, temperatures have already risen at an average of around 1.2-degrees. And while many could not fathom the floods we have seen in the last days it is hard to even begin to imagine what kind of human suffering a 2 degrees world would bring.
The supposed “details” of policies will in the end make the difference between the Europe we want and the one we may get instead. We need to tackle the big questions of a Coal Exit and renewable energy transition, a comprehensive mobility shift and regenerative agriculture.
While these issues are not ignored there is an obvious hesitancy to truly engage – instead there is no fossil fuel phase-out planned and the Common Agricultural Policy is shown to not notably reduce emissions.
Dominant EU countries like France and Germany need to step up and take initiative instead of hiding behind smaller, less ambitious countries as is their current practice. EU legislative processes need to be reformed in order to stop overcorrecting policies downward and need to be able to withstand Poland’s constant vetos.
While we yell “climate justice” there has been a failure in understanding that an intact climate is the basis for everyone having enough to eat and drink and a safe place to live and thus the basis of our very democracy and source of social stability.
Finally, however ambitiously we reduce emissions there is a degree of warming we can not reverse immediately and the next decades will be rough no matter what.
Next to climate protection we will need disaster prevention and mitigation measures that make sure, for instance, that heavy rains do not cause as much suffering. If we want anything to stay as it is – it’s clear that everything will need to change.
The transformations we stand before will not be easy, but we cannot let this moment divide us. The EU needs to rise to the occasion with courageous and comprehensive climate policy and solidarity.
Ultimately there is no Europe to fight for in the future if we do not do everything in order to fight the climate crisis right now.