Adelaïde Charlier and Anuna De Wever are representatives of Belgian Youth for Climate (YFC).
Applauded by countless European leaders as a “historic” moment, the EU deal on a €1.82 trillion budget and pandemic recovery package is a big step back in the fight against climate change — and a betrayal of the people it’s claiming to put first: the next generation.
The youth of today will inevitably be saddled with the colossal debts incurred by Europe’s response to the pandemic. This should give us a major say in how these vast sums are spent.
In reality, we have the least influence in this flawed recovery plan, even as we will bear the largest brunt of a worsening climate crisis — a crisis that will be hastened by EU measures to get us back to pre-coronavirus “business-as-usual.”
The fact that the global lockdown caused by the pandemic resulted only in a 10 percent drop in emissions is a stark reminder that reaching our climate goals will require radical measures. We need to rethink our economies from top to bottom if we want to meet our pledges under the Paris Climate Agreement and have a real chance of curbing the destructive impact of climate change.
Hopes that leaders would show similar resolve in tackling climate change, which after all poses an even greater existential threat than the virus, have been dashed.
Sadly, the EU deal reached in July doesn’t move us in that direction. For the EU to dub its recovery plan “Next Generation EU” is both insulting and highly misleading. Its basic failure to recognize climate change as a crisis — let alone one that will dwarf the pandemic — denies young people a decent future. It denies us hope.
Let us be clear why our leaders have failed us so badly with this plan.
Only 30 percent of the proposed spending is focused on climate policy. This is nowhere near good enough, and we are not alone in thinking so: Leading economists say that the only way to build a more resilient and sustainable future is through green stimulus.
Funding has also been cut in key areas such as the Just Transition Fund, a scheme that is crucial for helping carbon-heavy regions become net-zero emitters. The EU has also reduced its firepower when it comes to health policy and research and innovation, two areas that are crucial to a green recovery. Meanwhile, billions have been earmarked for unconditional bailouts of fossil-fuel intensive industries.
It could all have been so different. Governments’ initial pandemic response gave young people reason for optimism, as we saw them take unprecedented action to safeguard the lives of millions.
But hopes that leaders would show similar resolve in tackling climate change, which after all poses an even greater existential threat than the virus, have been dashed.
The EU’s recovery deal made it painfully clear that Europe still can’t bring itself to take radical action when it comes to climate change. It is all too willing to make compromises that threaten our health and safety, and that of future generations, when the threat appears less immediate.
Yet the idea that the fight against climate change is less urgent is an illusion. The effects are being felt with increasing frequency and intensity across the world. Just prior to the pandemic, some parts of the world were experiencing the worst wildfires and flooding in living memory. Record temperatures were documented in the Arctic. Peaking at 38 Celsius, even our most northern regions are experiencing temperatures that would be too hot for a pleasant beach holiday.
What is particularly dangerous about the EU’s approach to climate change is that it is so fluent in the language of green recovery and climate action. But if we take the EU at its word and accept its recovery plans as sufficient, we will realize only too late that we missed an important opportunity to scrutinize its green pledges.
It’s crucial we don’t let the EU off the hook. Unless the EU matches rhetoric with strong, comprehensive plans for climate action, we will never fulfill the pledges of the Paris Agreement.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen conceded in a meeting with us shortly before negotiations on the recovery plan that the EU wasn’t currently on track to meet its obligations under the Paris Treaty, but said she envisaged more radical action in the future.
The slim window of opportunity for the world to act is narrowing before our eyes.
The problem with this — as we set out in our letter to EU leaders in July — is that we do not have the necessary carbon budget to keep delaying. We currently have a 66 percent chance of keeping the rise of global temperatures to below 1.5 Celsius — but those odds will plummet in a matter of eight years. There is simply no time to sit and wait and hope for unspecified action in the future.
The slim window of opportunity for the world to act is narrowing before our eyes. And yet, whenever we meet with EU officials, they have patted us on the head and ignored our demands.
As the world leader on climate change, the EU must do better. How can the bloc ask the world’s other leading emitters to redouble efforts to meet their Paris commitments when it does not take action itself?