European parliament split on declaring climate emergency

The European parliament is split over whether to declare a global climate emergency before next week’s crucial UN summit.

If passed, the climate emergency resolution – to be voted on on Thursday – would throw down the gauntlet to incoming European Union leaders. The European commission’s president-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, is expected to take office on 1 December, having promised “a European green deal” in her first 100 days.

The draft resolution states there is “an environment and climate emergency in Europe and globally” and declares the EU will “take action accordingly”.

“It is a message to European citizens, to young people, to say that Europe is the very first continent to declare a climate emergency and to act accordingly,” said Pascal Canfin, a French MEP who chairs the European parliament’s environment committee and co-authored the resolution.

The text also references the US president Donald Trump’s decision to begin formal withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement earlier this month.

“We need to send a signal that after Trump’s decision, Europe is more than ever committed to deliver,” said Canfin, an ally of the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

While the climate emergency resolution is supported by many Liberals, Socialists, Greens and the radical left, the centre-right European People’s party (EPP) – the European parliament’s largest group – is uneasy about the word “emergency”. A source said the German word der Notstand was associated with the name of an infamous law of the Nazi era.

The EPP has tabled an amendment stating that the parliament “declares a climate and environmental urgency” [sic] and calling on the EU to take “urgent action”.

“I fully underline that we see the urgency of the issue. We need to prioritise this,” said the EPP leader, Manfred Weber, when asked whether his group would back the climate emergency text.

The parliament’s political forces are also divided over how quickly Europe should cut emissions to reach a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

In a separate vote on Thursday, the European parliament is expected to approve a resolution stating that current EU climate targets are “not in line” with the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which calls for keeping global heating “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels while aiming for only a 1.5C rise.

The EPP supports an emissions reduction of “at least 50%” by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels), while Liberals and Socialists would go to 55%. The Greens argue that anything less than 65% is inadequate.

“We have to realise that to meet the Paris agreement there are … very, very strict limits of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that we can release into the atmosphere from now for the next hundreds of years. And if we choose to release that much during this next decade then we can’t keep the temperature below 2C,” said the Swedish Green MEP Pär Holmgren.

Holmgren, a meteorologist and well-known TV weatherman until elected to the European parliament this year, advised the Thunberg family on climate science long before Greta began her school strike.

Holmgren told the Guardian that he was frustrated with political leaders using Greta’s name, but not taking sufficient action: “There are so many quoting Greta, or saying we have to listen to Greta, or saying we have to keep global warming below 1.5C … and to hear someone say that, and then still not deliver?

“Yes, there is a climate emergency and it has been for many decades, but if you want to say that then you have to do something about it as well.”

Others say a 55% emissions reduction goal for 2030 is in line with scientific advice. “We are politicians, so we need to bring society on board. We are not drafting an IPCC report,” Canfin said. “We are drafting something that will apply to business, SMEs, agriculture, farmers and citizens.”

The Greens’ preferred goal of at least 65% is based on a recommendation by the Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, a coalition of 1,700 NGOs that bases its analysis on an an IPCC report on how to keep global heating below 1.5C.

That report shows other pathways to cut emissions, but some increase the risk of overshooting the 1.5C ceiling on temperature rises, which scientists say is essential to avoid the most dangerous consequences.

The scale of the task was outlined by the UN environmental agency on Tuesday, when it reported that global emissions must fall by more than 7% each year from now until 2030 to stay within the 1.5C limit.

Most EU member states have signed up to a goal of net zero emissions by 2050, although Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary continue to hold out, as they await promised EU funds to help their economies go green.

The EU has focused its attention on the more distant 2050 target, fearful of damaging splits over the imminent 2030 deadline. “We have been campaigning on the increase of the 2030 target for years and it was disgracefully ignored,” said Klaus Röhrig, EU climate and energy policy coordinator at CAN Europe.

The EU’s current objective is to cut emissions by 40% by 2030, which was “shockingly insufficient” Röhrig said.


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