EU Green Deal could be too little, too late
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PALERMO, Italy – The temperature reached a record high in Sicily yesterday at 48 ° C, or 116 ° F weeks. Another African high pressure area has arrived this week, trapping hot air in a bubble around Sicily and the Tunisian coast. It is the fourth major heat wave Italy has seen this summer, with the most recent occurring near the Ferragosto holidays every August 15, when many Italians head to the southern beaches. It follows the torrential rain of this summer, the cold, unusual for the season, and the floods of the century in northwestern Europe.
These extreme conditions can only be the new global reality to which we have to get used to as we face the already visible consequences of climate change. That is the conclusion of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the state of climate science, updated this week, which concludes that human activity is causing the Earth’s climate to change at an “unprecedented” pace and extent changes. Some of these changes, such as the continued rise in sea levels, are already irreversible. The global surface temperature is now on average around 1.1 ° C higher than during the 50-year period from 1850-1900. “Unless there is immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to nearly 1.5 ° C or even 2 ° C will be unattainable,” said the IPCC.
The report is depressing to read, but climate activists remain unfazed, hoping it will serve as a wake-up call to citizens and politicians that now or never is the time to avert catastrophic changes in the Earth’s climate. Europe’s politicians have reacted with more urgency than in other parts of the world, perhaps because of the recent extreme weather events here, such as the United States, where parts of southern California have also been hit by forest fires and the Pacific Northwest recently suffered a historic heatwave.
Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said the report was “a clear and unmistakable signal that the planet is in mortal danger – and with it its inhabitants”. Schulze’s Social Democrats (SPD) are currently in a government coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), but the two major parties will vote for Merkel’s successor in next month’s general election. Climate change is already becoming a key issue in the election campaign. Olaf Scholz, the SPD’s candidate to succeed Merkel, said that the next chancellor would have to reform the German climate law immediately after taking office. “We know how we can achieve the major industrial transformation required for climate protection,” he said on Twitter.
CDU environmental spokeswoman Marie-Luise Dott wanted to show that the CDU candidate, Armin Laschet, also takes climate change seriously. “Germany and the EU have tightened their climate goals once again as part of the climate agreement and are thus making a fundamental contribution to limiting the rise in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees.” She expects the same approach from Germany’s international partners at the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year.
The European Commission proposed major changes to European climate laws last month to meet its recently tightened emissions reduction target of 55 percent by 2030. The proposed legislation now rests with the European Parliament and national ministers who will decide whether and how it will come into force. There are fears that the proposal will be significantly watered down by national governments – and not just by the usual Eastern European culprits like Poland. Coal-heavy Germany, in which large industries like the car lobby have a strong foothold in the government, has often watered down EU climate policy during Merkel’s tenure. Although Germans like to refer to their country as a climate leader, the reality is very different. Could the status quo change in the post-Merkel era? If the current polls confirm it and the election result shows a continued CDU-SPD coalition, don’t hold your breath.
These extreme conditions can only be the new global reality to which we have to get used to as we face the already visible consequences of climate change.
The IPCC report makes it very clear to Europeans what the future holds if urgent action is not taken, as it contains predictions of how climate change will affect different regions around the world. The report’s researchers expect temperatures in Europe to rise faster than the global average, which would likely mean that heat waves such as those that occurred across southern Europe this summer would increase in frequency and intensity. If temperatures rise by 2 degrees Celsius worldwide, it is also possible that the forest fires now observed in the Mediterranean region will spread to Eastern Europe, where they were previously rare.
Floods like the one in Belgium and Germany this summer would likely be more frequent. Any rise in global temperatures beyond the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees C will lead to an increase in intense rainfall and flooding in all European regions except the Mediterranean, which would experience droughts, the IPCC report said. The sea level would rise everywhere in Europe with the exception of the Baltic Sea if the goal of the Paris Agreement is not achieved.
In other words, the stakes couldn’t be any higher for EU politicians when they start looking at the huge climate record that the European Commission will hand over to them next month.
The Polish government is on the verge of collapse. A controversial bill banning ownership of foreign media in Poland was passed by the country’s lower house yesterday, and the ongoing controversy over the law is sending Poland’s right-wing coalition into collapse. The law, which critics say will only allow media following the far-right line of government to operate in the country, drew criticism from the ruling coalition and prompted Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to dismiss Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, who was also the Head of the contracting party. In response, the deal formally withdrew from the ruling coalition, which could force Morawiecki to call early elections while Donald Tusk, the former European Council President who also served as Polish Prime Minister from 2007 to 2014, is busy building a united Center-right and center-left opposition that could push Poland’s Conservative Law and Justice Party out of power. The consequences for EU politics would be enormous, because the Polish government is the most important illiberal ally of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Bulgaria’s political back and forth continues. Bulgaria’s early elections last month have still not produced a clear winner. The new party of the Bulgarian singer Slavi Tironov, named after one of his albums There is Such a People, achieved a shock victory by narrowly defeating the ruling party GERB of the populist Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov with 23.78 percent to 23.21 percent. However, as with many alternative parties in Europe, the question of whether to win the election is not an easy answer. Trifonov yesterday proposed a cabinet list to the Bulgarian parliament to vote on, but had to orally withdraw it at eleven o’clock after the withdrawal of potential coalition partners. Most embarrassingly, the proposed Prime Minister – Plamen Nikolov, a businessman with no prior political experience – withdrew his name from the deliberations on Tuesday. The formation of a new government will now likely be up to Borisov, although so far he has insisted that he will not try to recapture the Prime Minister’s office. The political impasse that There Is Such A People is facing after its unexpected, surprise election victory has reminded many observers of Italy’s five-star movement, which, while still in power as a majority party in parliament, has lost its way and could possibly disappear in new elections were held today. More on that next week.
Europe’s “Green Passports” come into force. Italy’s “Green Pass” system – which requires people to provide proof of full vaccination or a recent COVID-19 negative test result before they can access facilities such as restaurants, bars, museums or long-distance trains – has been in place since Jan. Effective August The system uses the digital QR code from the Italian app or that of another EU country using the EU’s “vaccine passport” system. Companies can easily download an app that reads the QR codes in order to compare them with the EU-wide database. I am using my Belgian app here in Sicily this week and can report that everything is working smoothly. However, I did experience that some visitors from non-EU countries had problems with the platform. They may have brought their paper documents showing vaccination or testing status from national agencies such as the U.S. Center for Disease Control, but there are no guarantees that companies will necessarily allow them to enter their facilities accept. There seem to be opportunities for EU non-residents to be included in the EU database, but the process is immensely complex. France is setting up a system for visitors from the US, Canada and the UK to have their paper documents recognized by the French app. It appears that UK visitors can also use the Irish app to gain access to the EU system. Countries across Europe have introduced these requirements for demonstrating vaccine or testing status, with the only significant public opposition occurring in France. Much of the English-speaking media has fixated on these French protests, but in reality they were small and polls show that a large majority of French people support the new hygiene badge requirements. However, the passport systems were not widely adopted. Belgium – my country of residence – continues to insist on reflecting the Dutch approach and avoids such requirements, except for large festivals.
Dave Keating is an American-European journalist who has lived in Brussels for 12 years. Originally from the New York City area, Dave has a history of covering the United States Congress halls in Washington, courtrooms in Chicago, boardrooms in London, cafes in Paris and the climate campaigns in Berlin.