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The European Parliament has declared a global “climate and environmental emergency” as it urged all EU countries to commit to zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The vote came as scientists warned that the world could have crossed a series of climate tipping points, resulting in "a state of planetary emergency."
Intended to demonstrate Europe's green credentials days before a crucial UN climate conference in Madrid, the vote also increases pressure on Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming president of the European commission, who declared this week that the EU will lead the fight against "the existential threat" of the climate crisis.
Although it passed with a comfortable majority, with 429 votes in favor, 225 votes against and 19 abstentions, MEPs from across the political spectrum cautioned against making symbolic gestures. Environmental activists said the statement was not supported by action. enough.
“Our house is on fire. The European Parliament has seen the fire, but it is not enough to wait and watch, "said Greenpeace's EU climate policy adviser Sebastian Mang shortly before the vote.
In a separate vote on Thursday, MEPs backed a resolution stating that current EU climate targets are "not in line" with the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which requires keeping global heating "well below" the 2C above pre-industrial levels, but with the temperature target not to exceed 1.5C.
MEPs backed a tougher goal, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, an improvement over the current 40% target, but one that politicians and environmental activists called inappropriate.
Pascal Canfin, the French liberal MEP who drafted the climate emergency resolution, said: “The fact that Europe is the first continent to declare a climate and environmental emergency, just before COP25, when the new commission takes office, and three weeks after Donald Trump confirmed the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris agreement is a strong message sent to citizens and the rest of the world.
MEPs from the largest group in the European parliament, the center-right European people's party, were divided on the language of 'climate emergency'. The group had wanted to declare "a climate emergency", because the German word emergency, der Notstand, left some MEPs uneasy, due to its associations with a Nazi-era law.
PPE environmental spokesman Peter Liese said the climate emergency was "a bogus debate" that concealed the real decisions needed to reduce emissions. “It is urgent to act, but there is no state of emergency to declare. The emergency can also be interpreted as undermining fundamental rights, such as freedom of the press and democracy ”.
However, dozens of EPP MEPs joined liberals, socialists, greens and the radical left in voting through the climate emergency resolution.
The Euro-skeptic European Conservative and Reform group opposed the text, although individual British Conservatives either supported or abstained from the vote. "Increasing the rhetoric does not take us away from the serious discussions that now have to take place," said his Czech environmental spokesman, Alexandr Vondra.
The Brexit party voted against both climate resolutions.
Speaking to The Guardian newspaper before the vote, Swedish meteorologist-turned-green MEP, Pär Holmgren, said other political groups had not understood the urgency of the climate crisis. "I could sum it up by saying: for the moment we are heading for 3C, which is of course better than 4C, but is far from below 2C, targeting 1.5 degrees that we have promised each other, to future generations." "
Separately, the Climate Action Network, a coalition of 1,700 NGOs, warned that member states would have to exceed the EU's existing 2030 carbon target to keep up with the Paris climate agreement.
Currently, the EU aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, a goal that the network has described as "surprisingly insufficient". To meet that target, declared inappropriate by MEPs in the vote, EU member states have until the end of the year to present plans to Brussels outlining their energy transformation over the next decade.
An evaluation of the draft plans by the Climate Action Network said there was "not enough ambition" to switch to renewables, save energy and phase out carbon.
The report highlighted that progress had been made since the countries presented their original plans in 2018. Greece, Hungary and Slovakia agreed to phase out coal in their energy sectors by 2030. That means coal will be concentrated in five EU member states in 2030: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Romania.
Other countries were criticized for their low ambition, notably Belgium, which has not come up with any new plans on renewable energy or energy saving due to the long-lasting political stalemate that has resulted in a caretaker government for nearly a year. France, Germany, and Sweden were among many countries criticized for not doing enough to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.
The research highlighted that climate activists in Hungary and Romania “did not have access to official information” about changes in the government's climate and energy plans.
"Member States have one month left to improve their plans," said Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe. “It is clear that the quality of these plans will weigh heavily on the EU's ability to act on climate change in the next decade. They must establish clear pathways that allow the bloc to increase its climate goal, move away from fossil fuels and accelerate the pace towards fully efficient economies based on renewable energy.
The group did not evaluate the UK, which submitted a draft of the national energy and climate plan to the European commission. The government has pledged to generate net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and suggested that the UK could be linked to the EU's emissions trading system, one of many politically charged issues to be decided during post-Brexit talks.