A global “climate and environmental emergency” was declared by the European parliament urging all the EU countries to be committed to net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.
The vote came at a time when the world may have already crossed a series of climate tipping points as the scientists warned that now resulting in “a state of planetary emergency.”
Just before a crucial UN climate conference in Madrid, the vote not only intended to demonstrate Europe’s green credentials but also puts pressure on the incoming president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who declared this week that the EU would lead the fight against “the existential threat” of the climate crisis.
There was a comfortable majority, with 429 votes in favor, 225 votes against and 19 abstentions, still it warned MEPs across the political spectrum against making symbolic gestures.
According to the environmental campaigners, the declaration was not supported by sufficient action. “Our house is on fire. The European parliament has seen the blaze, but it’s not enough to stand by and watch,” Sebastian Mang, Greenpeace’s EU climate policy adviser, said shortly before the vote.
MEPs also backed a resolution in a separate vote on Thursday, stating that recent EU climate targets were “not in line” with the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global heating “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and aiming to cap the rise in temperature at 1.5C.
Although MEPs backed a stricter target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, up from the current 40% target, Green politicians and campaigners derided the goal as inadequate.
Pascal Canfin, the French liberal MEP who drafted the climate emergency resolution, said: “The fact that Europe is the first continent to declare climate and environmental emergency, just before COP25, when the new commission takes office, and three weeks after Donald Trump confirmed the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris agreement, is a strong message sent to citizens and the rest of the world.”
The “climate emergency” language splits MEPs, who are part of the European parliament’s largest group, the center-right European People’s party. The group had wanted to declare “a climate urgency” instead because some MEPs were uneasy for the German word emergency, der Notstand, which is associated with a Nazi-era law.
Peter Liese, the environmental spokesman of EPP, said the climate emergency was “a fake debate” that hid the real decisions required to cut emissions. “There is an urgency to act, but no state of emergency to declare. Emergency can also be interpreted as undermining fundamental rights, like freedom of press and democracy.”
Nevertheless, the climate emergency resolution helped the scores of EPP MEPs join Liberals, Socialists, Greens, and the radical left in voting.
The text was opposed by the Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists group, although individual British Tories either supported or abstained from the vote. “Ramping up the rhetoric does not get us away from the serious discussions that now need to take place,” Alexandr Vondra, its Czech environment spokesman, said.
Needless to mention the Brexit party voted against both climate resolutions.
The Swedish meteorologist-turned Green MEP, Pär Holmgren, said speaking to the Guardian before the vote, other political groups hadn’t grasped the urgency of the climate crisis. “You could sum it up by saying: for the moment we are heading for 3C, which is, of course, better than 4C, but it’s far from well below 2C, aiming at 1.5 degrees which we have promised to each other, to future generations.”
To be in line with the Paris climate agreement, the Climate Action Network comprising of 1,700 NGOs warned that member states would have to achieve more on the EU’s existing 2030 carbon target.
At present, the EU’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 against 1990 levels, described as “shockingly insufficient” by the network. For meeting the goal which was declared inadequate by MEPs in the vote, EU member states have until the end of the year to outline their energy transformation plan over the next decade and submit to Brussels.
After assessing the draft plans, the Climate Action Network said there was “insufficient ambition” to phase out coal, change to renewables, and make energy savings.
The progress had been made since countries submitted their original plans in 2018 and highlighted in the report. Greece, Hungary, and Slovakia have agreed to phase out coal in their power sectors by 2030. That means in five EU member states i.e., Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Romania, coal will be concentrated in 2030.
France, Germany, and Sweden were among many other countries criticized for taking enough action to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Among other countries that were faulted for low ambition, Belgium was one that did not put forward any new plans on renewable energy or to save energy due to the political stalemate for long, and a caretaker government that is operating for nearly a year.
The climate activists in Hungary and Romania had “no access to official information” about changes in government’s climate and energy plans, research highlighted.
“Member states have one month left to improve their plans,” Wendel Trio, the director of Climate Action Network Europe, said. “It is crystal clear that the quality of these plans will weigh a lot in the EU’s ability to act on climate change in the next decade. They must set clear pathways that will allow the bloc to increase its climate target, shift away from fossil fuels and speed up the pace towards fully energy efficient and renewables-based economies.”
The UK has submitted a draft national energy and climate plan to the European Commission that the group did not assess. The government has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and suggested that the UK could link to the EU’s emissions trading system, one of many politically-charged issues to be decided during the post-Brexit talks.