European Parliament declares climate and environmental emergency

An overwhelming majority of 429 MEPs has voted in favour of declaring a climate emergency in Europe. 225 voted against and 19 abstained.

The European Parliament has declared a state of environmental and climate emergency today, following a vote by the European Parliament. The discussions took place during the Parliament’s monthly plenary session in Strasbourg.

The news follows a week of internal clashes within the Parliament, where political groups split over climate policy.

The climate emergency motion was tabled at the beginning of the week by Pascal Canfin, chair of the Parliament’s Environment Committee and a member of the centrist Renew Europe group. Green lawmakers had initially attacked the proposal, decrying it as nothing more than a PR-stunt. The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) had opposed the use of the word ‘emergency’. “This is not panic mongering. We need to keep a sober head,” said Peter Liese, a German conservative MEP, suggesting the word ‘urgency’ would have been more appropriate.

In an interview with Euractiv last week, Confin stressed the strategic importance of the vote, which takes place just before the UN’s climate talks in Madrid and as the new Commission takes office. “It’s a way of reaffirming our global leadership on climate change,” he said while recognising that “it is primarily a diplomatic message”.

“Once you have declared the state of environmental and climate emergency, it is more difficult to renege on commitments that have been made,” he said.

Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said:

“Today’s vote sends a strong message to EU governments and to the rest of the world. Our institutions must choose whether they want to stand and watch the decline of civilisation or take action and fight for a better future for people and nature.”

The Parliament also passed a resolution proposing to increase the reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions to 55% by 2030. A proposal to increase the target to 65% was rejected. The current goal to be achieved by 2030 is 40%, but scientists largely believe this is not enough to avert the climate crisis.

Next on the agenda

Next Monday, world leaders will head to Madrid to kick off the 25th edition of the annual UN meeting on climate change. Governments will outline their plans to become carbon neutral in the next decades.

EU leaders are largely regarded as the most ambitious on climate action. However, Europe ranks third among the top emitters, according to a recent report by a coalition of leading scientists.

One day before the end of the conference, on December 11, the European Commission will be expected to present its much-awaited Green Deal. The deal will outline, among other things, Europe’s efforts to reduce emissions, boost the uptake of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency of buildings, products and services.

From climate action to waste reduction and conservation, NGOs have presented a set of priorities they hope to see in the Green New Deal.

Finally, question marks remain around the issue of a climate budget to finance the transition to a greener and cleaner Europe. Last week, the European Investment Bank announced it will stop lending money for fossil fuel projects from the end of 2021. Now, all eyes are national government which are currently busy discussing Europe’s next budget.

The EU budget will run from 2021 to 2027 and will allocate money to spend on renewable energy, clean transport and sustainable business models. The Commission wants to increase climate spending from the current 20% to 25% – about €320 billion – of the new budget. The European Parliament and civil society groups have proposed respectively a 30% and 40% minimum spending on climate-related projects. A decision by national governments is expected in the first months of 2020.