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European Union Fails To Take Climate Emergency Seriously

Writer Ben Dolbear examines the European Union's poor record on climate change, and why poor centralised decision-making has hampered efforts to fight it.

Photo by Artur Roman

The European Union's new leadership has made bold promises on climate change since the handover of power last month. But the bloc's poor record on environmental action during its twenty-five formal years of existence may prove a more accurate, unflattering calculation for the future direction of the European Project.

Before assuming the position of President of the European Commission early last December, German native Ursula von der Leyen promised the European Parliament that it would be her priority to alleviate the concerns of a European population who were 'feeling quite clearly the effects of climate change'.

The President has committed her new Commission to pushing through the 2050 climate neutrality target, an initiative that she calls 'ambitious'.

'I want the European Green Deal to become Europe's hallmark. At the heart of it is our commitment to becoming the world's first climate-neutral continent. It is also a long-term economic imperative: those who act first and fastest will be the ones who grasp the opportunities from the ecological transition. I want Europe to be the front-runner. I want Europe to be the exporter of knowledge, technologies and best practice' - Ursula von der Leyen.

These are welcome words from a president who clearly acknowledges more than most national governments the immediacy of the crisis already threatening lives and living standards across the globe.

However, the reality of the Green Deal struck on 13th December amounts to significantly less than what was hoped for by climate activists conscious of the continent's soaring carbon contribution to the warming atmosphere. One such disappointing caveat to the deal is the exemption of Poland, whose economy relies heavily on coal. Poland is by far Europe's largest polluter, with its Belchatow power station contributing 38.3 megatonnes of carbon dioxide to global emissions in 2018. Lack of action by Poland will lead to efforts by the rest of Europe being undermined by its booming coal industry.

Furthermore, the Czech Republic and Hungary only agreed to the deal once it had been watered down so much as to allow for no punitive measures against their use of nuclear energy, a power source condemned by Greenpeace as having 'no place in a safe, clean, sustainable future'.

Far from being 'Europe's man on the moon moment', as suggested by President von der Leyen, the final details of the pitiful compromise deal will not be known until a key meeting in Glasgow at the end of 2020.

The European Union's lack of action on climate change is as old as the institution itself, with big money hampering honest politics and real change for years; just last week the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council, currently held by Croatia, signed a deal with its own country's national oil company INA to supply its fuel.

This kind of corruption has defined the failure to action by the European Union, reminiscent of the Cresson scandal of the 1990s.

The greatest irony came in late November of last year when the European Parliament symbolically voted to declare a climate emergency despite continuing to split their parliamentary sessions between two homes: Strasbourg, France, and Brussels, Belgium. This monthly move comes at a regular cost of £150 million as gas-guzzling lorries, carbon-emitting planes, and diesel cars transport tonnes of paperwork and office equipment across the 270 mile stretch.

Whilst it is commendable that EU-wide carbon emissions have been dropping throughout the last decade, current plans to allow overly high greenhouse gas emissions until 2030 have forced members of the indigenous Sami community in Sweden and French lavender farmer Maurice Feschet, who lost 44% of his harvest in six years because of climate change, to file a lawsuit against the EU institutions.

Families who sued the European Union claimed that their lives had been blighted by poor policy decisions regarding climate change made by the lawmakers at the top of the EU, and instead of claiming compensation asked that politicians define a higher, more ambitious reduction target.

The United Kingdom leaves the European Union at the end of January, at it is hoped that breaking away from its institutions will enable future governments of the UK to engage with more ambitious proposals on climate change, including a national Carbon Emissions Tax and enforceable limits on carbon emissions.

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