Here in Brussels climate change has been in the news over the last few weeks. Outside the European Parliament on Tuesday we saw temperatures reach 35.4 °C, the hottest September day in Belgium since records began. Inside we saw calls backed by the Greens for higher targets to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause this in the years ahead, but there were some mixed messages, and varying ambition depending on who you were speaking to. European politics can be confusing: decision-making is shared between three institutions: the European Parliament; the European Commission; and the Council of the European Union. All three bodies are increasing their ambition on climate action and the Greens have been instrumental in seeking these higher targets.
Grace O’Sullivan and I sit in the 705 member European Parliament. She sits on the Environment and Fisheries Committees, and I focus on both Transport and Energy. Last week the Environment Committee called for a 60% reduction in emissions by 2030, but this target may be watered down when it comes to a full vote of Parliament in October. Meanwhile European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her first State of the Union address on Wednesday supported raising the target to at least 55%. She stated, “We have more proof that what is good for the climate is good for business and is good for us all.” My Greens/EFA colleague Bas Eickhout MEP has said however that a 65% reduction in emissions by 2030 is the only way we will be able to keep global temperature rises under 1.5c and stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis.
It would be easy to obsess about the numbers, but we also need to focus on bringing people with us on this journey. When radio phone-ins light up in anger if we even suggest that driving at 110 km/h rather than 120 km/h is good for the planet you know we’ve got a problem! However, it does seem as though the public mood is changing. Perhaps it is the high temperatures, or the news reports of wildfires that we’re seeing in Australia, Siberia, the Amazon and on the west coast of the USA. Or maybe it is the thousands of young people led by Greta Thunberg and marching for change on our streets around the world.
On every continent we can see the impact of our changing climate. Now may be the time to get public buy-in on the radical changes that are required to decarbonise the ways we live, work and spend our time. I’ve often said that incremental change is all we can hope to achieve, but perhaps we’ve now reached a tipping point where more ambitious action is possible. Adapting our lives to COVID19 has shown us how to work remotely, and travel less. It has also shown us the importance of community in our lives. Teleworking can be less stressful for some, and not facing a long commute every morning can improve our well-being.
On Thursday, a report I wrote for the Parliament’s Energy Committee on ‘Maximising the energy efficiency potential of the EU building stock’ was approved by the Parliament. I’ve proposed a ‘Renovation wave’ to reduce the 40% of emissions that come from buildings, starting off with Council housing. Tackling energy poverty must be at the heart of the European Green Deal. By tackling poverty as well as creating new jobs and reducing emissions we can truly aspire to a European vision for the twenty-first century.
MEP for Dublin
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