Europe becomes first continent to declare a ‘climate emergency’

The resolution was adopted by 429 votes in favour, 225 against and 19 abstentions during a plenary vote in Strasbourg.

It was first introduced earlier this autumn by Pascal Canfin MEP, chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee, after the UK Government passed its own ‘climate emergency’ resolution in May.  

Canfin, who represents Renew Europe, said the declaration’s passing will help the continent to “meet the expectations” of its citizens.

“Europe is the first continent to declare climate and environmental emergency and it’s a very strong message, first to European citizens and to the rest of the world, just before COP25, and three weeks after Donald Trump confirmed the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement,” Canfin said.

In addition to Renew Europe, the declaration drew broad support from the Green Party, which made a series of amendments to the document in a bid to give it more teeth.

Climate emergency declarations are, broadly, symbolic motions rather than legally binding legislation. The UK’s declaration, for example, did not require any chances to the Climate Change Act or the nation’s Paris Agreement contributions.

But for Europe, the declaration’s passing comes as incoming European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen is finalising plans to deliver on her Green Deal. The deal is expected to contain a 2050 net-zero target for the EU, bolstered by an objective to cut emissions by 55% by 2030, against a 1990 baseline. The EU’s current 2030 target s a 40% reduction within the same parameters.

The Green Party are pushing for the 2030 target to be upped to 65%, with a view to enabling an earlier net-zero date. Similarly, Friends of the Earth Europe is campaigning for individual EU Member States to up the targets in their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), which were deemed insufficient by the European Commission in June. Nations are due to submit their updated NECPs by the end of December.

“If we can go beyond [55%], I have nothing against,” Canfin said. “But I think [55%] is the right target. Always asking for more won’t bring you a majority. At this stage, there is no majority to go beyond that.”

Indeed, the European Parliament’s main critics of the higher 2030 target and the ‘climate emergency’ declaration alike are members of the right-wing European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group in parliament.

At the plenary vote on the declaration, EPP deputy leader Peter Leise said: There is an urgency to act, but no state of emergency to declare.”

Sarah George

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