Q1. Why do we think there is a climate and ecological emergency ?
A. Global temperature is 1°C warmer than before industrialisation. Most of that warming has happened very recently and it is accelerating (presently by 0.2°C per decade).
In the Paris agreement, countries have committed to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels“ (art. 2,1(a)). https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/10a01.pdf. The 1.5°C threshold may be crossed by 2030, in 10 years’ time, say the scientists of the IPCC. Crossing that line is risky for mankind, because more warming, even just by 2°C, will cause much more harm, according to the IPCC. And scientists warn that such an increase may trigger tipping points, such as the melting of the Arctic ice and the permafrost, that can take the Earth onto a “hothouse” trajectory that cannot be reversed anymore – so-called self-reinforcing feedbacks.
And as if that were not enough, an international panel of scientists has now confirmed that life on Earth is declining so fast that it threatens the foundations of our society, like our food supply.
Q2. Are higher temperatures of 1°C , 2°C or even 3°C serious?
A. Here are examples of what scientists think might happen if warming continues:
- Climate change will soon dwarf all other drivers of mass migration. Forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate, according to the UN.
- Sea levels will rise more that commonly known: 0.5m rise is already irreversible, and around 0.7m, possibly even 1m or more, is likely at present trends by the end of the century. The Commission’s Joint Research Centre estimates that in order to keep damage from flooding to the present proportion of GDP, coastal defences around Europe have to be raised by 0.5m in 2050 and 1m in 2100.
- Heatwaves will become more severe. For instance, a study for France calculates that severe heatwaves will not only become more frequent, but “could easily exceed 50°C in France by the end of the 21st century”.
- On the Earth’s poles, temperature is already rising much faster, with peaks at times of around 10°C above normal. The ice in the Arctic and Antarctic is melting fast and the risk is that this melting process will become irreversible – and once it is, it may accelerate warming in a runaway process that cannot be stopped any more.
Q3. Can we still implement the Paris Agreement and limit warming close to 1.5°C or at least to 2°C?
A. If the countries that signed the Paris agreement in 2016 implement all the commitments they made, global temperature will rise by at least 3°C. Many scientists think that 3°C is too high for our societies to survive.
To limit warming to 1.5°C it would take, according to the IPCC, a reduction of CO2 emissions by more than 50% world-wide and until 2030. Presently, global emissions rise by more than 2% per year. If we distribute the reduction needed evenly over the 10 years till 2030, emissions would have to go down every year by 7-8%. The changes required are huge but decisive and unprecedented action now can still achieve them.
Q4. The EU is already global leader in fighting climate change. We have a vision to decarbonise the economy by 2050. So why do more?
A. The EU has done more than any other bloc or continent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on its own territory. This is a positive achievement. But our existing efforts are probably not sufficient to limit warming to 1.5°C and may not reach the EU’s 2030 targets.
There is a mismatch between the long-term aspiration of decarbonisation by 2050 and the near-term reality and plans – despite the valid efforts the EU has made until now. We are still burning coal and reliance on “negative emissions technologies” is currently misplaced, as those technologies are mostly in their development phase and have not reached the market for the scale needed.
With every moment that passes, the task becomes more challenging. Had we faced the problem in 1980, it would have been easier to control. But the current stocks of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and of polluting activities on the planet are a formidable challenge. A decarbonisation vision for 2050 is positive, but immediately effective plans and action for 2020-2025 are essential.
And global emissions continue to rise incessantly. For our own sake, and of course for poorer world regions that will suffer even more, the EU should leverage more its considerable economic and political weight on the international scene to fight the climate crisis globally: Through trade policy, development policy and its external action. Our best opportunity is that Europe continues to lead even more strongly.
Q5. Why do we suggest that Europe should aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% every year till 2030?
For two reasons. First, because aiming to keep to the 1.5°C limit envisaged at Paris already means reductions of 7-8% year-by-year, to get to a total reduction of more than 50% in total by 2030 – see above.
And: Europe should do more, because it has a higher responsibility than other world regions. Historically, over the last century, a large part of the CO2 that is already in the atmosphere has come from Europe’s industry. And although today only 10% of greenhouse gas emissions come from production inside the EU, our consumption and lifestyle drive the “outsourcing” of emissions to third countries that make consumer goods for our European market – from smartphones produced in China to clothes made in India.
Q6. Why raise so much concern? Will language like “disaster” and “emergency” not just create panic and put people off?
A. Yes, “doom and gloom” is not a solution. But awareness and information is a necessary first step. We can face the reality when we know it. We propose a broad public debate as the way forward.
Our children, and millions of pupils and students, are rightly worried, and so are we as their parents and grand parents. We cannot ignore their concern – their future is at stake. They have the right to speak about an “emergency”.
We can build a positive agenda, if we have the courage to face the facts and the will to do so. As EU staff, we can help find effective answers and actions. This is why we appeal to our leaders.
Q7. Will this not destroy the economy and our prosperity?
A. There are good arguments to say that seriously decarbonising the economy can actually create more prosperity. The Commission explains this in its Clean Planet Communication. And many economists say that the cost of inaction will be higher than the investments needed to decarbonise the economy.
But of course, big changes will be needed. Realism and a broad societal debate are necessary to find an equitable way to deal with economic challenges and opportunities that may arise in the course of the transformation. As inequality is rising in our society, and as climate change will harm most the weakest in our societies across the world, it is important to make sure that those who have the lowest incomes and are most vulnerable are protected first.
Q8. EU officials and the EU institutions should first practice what they preach.
A. Yes indeed. We should decide how we reduce the climate footprint of our own institutions – business travel, commuting, energy use … Our own institutions can show the way forward and our EUstaff4climate group is working to spread awareness amongst colleagues and propose solutions to decrease our environmental footprint. And in parallel, we as citizens are committed in our individual lives to make change.
The content on this website does not engage or express the views of any of the EU institutions.