European Commission slammed for ‘tepid’ response to rapidly changing climate

European Commission slammed for ‘tepid’ response to rapidly changing climate

Governments, regional authorities, the business community and European citizens as a whole must face the fact that, even if world leaders succeed in limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees in line with the Paris Agreement of 2015, Europe must prepare for double that amount of heating.

That was the message of climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra as he presented on Tuesday (12 March) an EU strategy for managing the associated risks, a day after the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a first EU climate risk assessment report warning of potentially catastrophic damage to health, property and ecosystems.

“Climate impacts will unfortunately continue to get worse before it gets better,” Hoekstra told reporters in Strasbourg, shortly before delivering the same message to the European Parliament. “It is inevitable, and might at times feel overwhelming.”

The response from the commission, which was kept abreast of the content of the EEA report as it drafted its plan, is in the form of a communication setting out a broad “direction of travel” and an “overview of possible solutions”, as Hoekstra put it.

“It will be essential to have clarity on who owns the risk so we can act effectively,” the commissioner said.

The non-legislative communication sets out four categories for action, first of which is improved governance. The EU executive calls for better use of data and evidence, and closer cooperation between national, regional and local authorities.

The second objective is ensuring the right information is available to those who need it, helping businesses and investors to “better understand the interlinkages between climate risks, investment and long-term financing strategies”.

The Galileo emergency warning satellite, due to go live in 2025, will help by communicating alert information to people, businesses and public authorities “even when terrestrial alert systems are down”, the EU executive said in a statement accompanying its paper.

Better spatial planning and maintaining critical infrastructure is the third broad area for action, followed by mobilizing “sufficient public and private finance” for building up Europe’s climate resilience.

The publication was not well received by Sergiy Moroz of the European Environmental Bureau, an influential Brussels-based NGO umbrella group, who accused the EU executive of merely echoing the EEA report rather than offering concrete solutions.

“Europe's temperatures are soaring above the world average spelling disaster for our ecosystems and economies,” Moroz said, adding: “And yet, the European Commission's tepid response today merely acknowledges the severity of the issue without offering concrete solutions.”

“Urgent action is essential, starting with transforming agricultural and water management practices to align with planetary boundaries,” Moroz said. “A Climate Resilience Law must be a top priority for the new EU mandate post elections.”

The commission was previously expected to present a separate water resilience strategy alongside the climate adaptation paper, but that was shelved last month, sparking outrage among both green groups and the water industry.

The EU’s sudden pivot towards urgent climate adaptation and the acceptance of seemingly inevitable further temperature rise comes nine years after the signing of the Paris Agreement and almost three decades since the first COP climate conference.

Asked if the dilemma Europe is now facing, by no means alone, was indicative of a worldwide failure of political will, commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič, speaking alongside Hoekstra, said the EU would use its climate diplomacy to help secure financing for “countries in need of help” while at the same time calling for action from other rich countries and “the biggest polluters who could do more”.

“I am sure we will fulfil our 2030 target and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55%,” the vice-president said, noting that Europe’s share of global emission would have more than halved by then to 3-4%. “We will also need to tackle the remaining 90-plus percent coming from other countries,” he said.