As European leaders meet today to discuss how the EU will deal with climate change, they have in their minds the strong demands of a group of young climate change activists. This past weekend, organizers of national Powershift Youth Climate Conferences from across Europe gathered in Copenhagen to collectively reflect on their national Powershifts and to plan how to move forward as a more cohesive Europe-wide movement. Europe is often seen as a key player in international climate change negotiations, largely because it is likely that any leadership (which has been severely lacking from all industrialized nations in international talks) will come from Europe. Recently, Denmark has replaced Poland as president of the EU, reinvigorating hopes for European leadership on emissions reductions.
Poland had become notorious in its 6 month presidency for blocking any advances or even conversation on climate legislation, defending instead its own national interests in coal development. In contrast, the new president Denmark – with ambitious national emissions reduction standards of -40% by 2020 – is seen as a global leader on climate. The question remains to be shown – will Denmark’s leadership be enough to move the EU to adopt binding and sane emissions reductions, thus opening the door for other nations to come forward with their own commitments? It was precisely this question that European youth addressed on Monday with a creative, vibrant and clear message for the Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Building – Martin Lidegaard.
= Gathering in a public square in the heart of Copenhagen, these young leaders presented the Minister and the people of Denmark with the reality of the situation: with the scientific necessity of peaking global CO2 emissions by 2015, Denmark must choose its path to the future between “business as usual” and immediate CO2 reductions. It is this immediate decision that will have huge consequences on all future generations. Highlighting the uneven political playing field, one youth organizer stated: “We don’t have the millions of Euros in lobby money that the fossil fuel industry has, we are reduced to lobbying our government with painted cardboard. Where is democracy when you can buy influence?” What the Powershift Youth lacked in resources, they made up for in creativity, energy and the confident knowledge that they are right!
Today’s EU Environmental council meeting will show if Denmark will lead the push for emissions reductions comparable with their national plans, or if they will let the complexities of politics (especially Poland’s rigid stance against any change) overshadow the grave need for climate action. As one young Powershifter stated: “The difficulties for European leaders to navigate the current political climate is nothing compared with the difficulties our generation and all future generations will face at the hands of the global climate crisis. We have 3 years to peak global CO2 emissions, thats means we have to start now!” As the world makes the necessary shifts towards a sustainable pathway, the question remains: will current political structures will keep up with reality, or if they will get left behind for their inability in dealing with climate change?