In a world where the US and China are focused on trade wars, and the US is withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, Europeans have the most opportunities to push our leaders to take real climate action. The European Union is one of the three largest economic powers in the world, together with the US and China. And we are responsible for 22% of historic greenhouse gas emissions. So we bear great responsibility to act on the climate crisis.

We have already shown our power on the streets across Europe. But we need governments and politicians to act too.

If done well, the EU climate law and the European Green Deal could be excellent tools for tackling the climate emergency.

But a saw is useless if the blade is dull. And a climate law is useless if the emissions targets are not strong enough.

What’s wrong?

European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has said that responding to the climate and ecological emergency is the most pressing issue facing the EU. She promised a European Green Deal in the Commission’s first 100 days, with a new EU climate law at its heart. On Wednesday, the 4th of March she will unveil the climate law.

We have seen from a leaked document that the climate law text says that the European Green Deal sets out “a new growth strategy” for Europe, but the European Environment Agency (EEA) is warning that “Europe will not achieve its sustainability vision of ‘living well within the limits of the planet’ by continuing to promote economic growth and seeking to manage the environmental and social impacts”.

Picture showing a flooded Venice.
Rising sea levels are already impacting Venice. © Roberto Silvino / Greenpeace

The climate law, and the European Green Deal more broadly, fail to tackle or recognise the root cause of the climate, biodiversity and inequality crises: the economic system fuelled by extraction and exploitation which have been sustained through oppression.

The EU can do better.

The Climate Law will focus on a net-zero emissions target by 2050, but that’s too late. We need a strong 2030 emissions reduction target. Some of our governments already support a 55% emission reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 emissions). But that will lead to more than 2ºC of heating.

Two governments, the Danish and the Finnish, already have national targets that would keep the warming to 1.5ºC. But we need an EU commitment of at least 65% emission reductions by 2030. And this commitment must be on the table well before the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow in November. Otherwise we risk jeopardizing the whole Paris agreement.

In addition, it doesn’t make sense to set targets with one hand, and subsidize climate killers with the other. The draft Climate Law as far as we know:

  • Won’t include plans to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels and other climate-damaging sectors, such as airlines, airports and industrial agriculture.
  • Will fail to address the political influence and greenwashing of the fossil fuel industry.
  • Will not recognise the growing impact of animal farming on the EU’s greenhouse gases, now accounting for a share of 12-17%
  • Will fail to phase out of new petrol and diesel cars. Greenpeace believes this should happen by 2028. Measures to accelerate the shift from cars and planes to alternatives like walking, cycling, train travel and public transport should be included in the law.
Global Student Strike in Prague. © Petr Zewlakk Vrabec / Greenpeace
Students in Prague, Czech Republic went on the street to strike on 15th March 2019. © Petr Zewlakk Vrabec / Greenpeace

Another issue is money. There is a proposal for a one trillion euro (€1,000,000,000,000!) Sustainable Investment Plan to help to make the change to a climate-friendly world. However, the Bruegel think tank says that this is three times too little. Most of the money is already part of the EU budget or comes from the private sector.

The Sustainable Investment Plan has very few requirements attached, so it could actually provide subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear projects and countries that have not yet committed to a coal phase-out by 2030 and a fossil fuel phase-out by 2040. Just €7.5 billion of the total amount excludes fossil fuel subsidies.

Who decides?

It might sound like the EU Climate Law, the EU emissions reductions targets, and the European Green Deal are decided by bureaucrats in big buildings in Brussels we usually only ever see on the news. Wrong. The decisions are made much closer to us: in our national capitals.

It is quite right that the European Commission makes the proposal and that the European Parliament discusses it and hopefully makes it better. In the end it is the European Council that has the most power in the final decision. And the European Council is nobody other than our own Heads of States and government.

What can you do?

Fridays for Future Student Demonstration in Vienna. © Mitja  Kobal / Greenpeace
Students in Vienna went on the street to strike. © Mitja Kobal / Greenpeace

This brings the whole European climate policy close to us. For there to be change, we need to push our prime ministers and presidents in whatever way that fits us.

  • Join a march on Friday, if there is one in your area
  • Contact your national leaders: send an email, call their office, tweet at them or post on their Facebook page.

Let’s do it together. From Lisbon to Helsinki, from Brussels to Sofia: if we don’t act, nobody else will.