Europe seems to be fully intent on remaining a global leader in the fight against climate change: “The global fossil fuel crisis must be a game changer. And, my friends, let us not take the highway to hell; let us earn the clean ticket to heaven,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday in her address at the COP27 plenary meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
This was in reply to the “highway to hell” image used by UN Secretary Guterres, who in his speech on Monday had raised the alarm about scenarios that might be already out of our control. Von der Leyen acknowledged this, recalling that “the climate is changing faster than our ability to adapt,” and emphasizing Europe’s commitment: following the provisions of the Paris Agreement and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. She said the royal road was the one Europe was pushing for: accelerating the advent of renewable energy.
“The European Union’s additional renewable capacity is set to more than double this year, up to 50 gigawatts. And if we accelerate and if we scale up – and that is our plan – we can, in the next year, meet a new all-time record of over 100 gigawatts of additional renewable capacity,” she explained, also calling on “all major emitters to increase their ambitions, too.” One of those she meant is undoubtedly the United States. U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry also spoke at the COP27 on Tuesday, giving assurance that U.S. President Joe Biden will continue his efforts for a greener economy, even in the event of a Republican victory in the midterm elections.
On Tuesday, the rich countries of the world were given a hard dose of reality by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, one of the countries hardest hit by extreme climate events, namely the catastrophic floods that have impacted no less than 33 million people and caused more than $30 billion in economic damage in recent months. Shehbaz Sharif reminded world leaders that “an alarm bell for humanity” is ringing out, in a world that is being hit by the impacts of global warming at an accelerating pace, “burning up faster than our capacity for recovery.” Sharif stressed that “this all happened despite our very low carbon footprint,” because – as is obvious – this “man-made disaster” does not respect national borders. “It’s now or never,” Sharif urged: “For us there is indeed no Planet B.”
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, speaking on behalf of the Pope, stressed the same points, and called for increasing “the availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration” to encompass the so-called climate migrants. The cardinal gave assurances of Francis’s “closeness, support, and encouragement” for the international assembly: “Our world is now far too interdependent and cannot permit itself to be structured into unsustainable isolated blocks of countries.” He stressed that “this is a time for international and intergenerational solidarity,” adding that “we must be responsible, courageous, and forward-looking, not just for ourselves, but for our children.”
While climate challenges are being discussed in Egypt, the monthly bulletin produced by the Climate Change Service of the EU Copernicus satellite system reminds us that the challenge is becoming more and more difficult. Temperatures in Europe were the hottest on record for the month of October, averaging 2 degrees higher than the 1991-2020 period.
This is why the image used by EU Council President Charles Michel, who began his speech by saying “we have a climatic gun to our head,” is not a mere figure of speech. The problem is that we are the ones holding the gun; in addition to Russia, which by attacking Ukraine has made everything more difficult, leading many countries, including Italy, to start new fossil fuel investments. Michel assures that “this crisis further strengthens the European Union’s resolve,” which is “committed to protecting nature, the oceans and forests, which are the lungs of the planet, sustaining biodiversity and human life on earth.”
It was a speech that hit all the right notes. Unfortunately, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed in his speech via video link, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has distracted governments from the efforts needed to combat climate change. As Zelensky concluded, “there can be no effective climate policy without peace.”
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