According to recent news, the EU Parliament is set to declare a “climate emergency” before the UN COP25 begins in Madrid next week. This would follow the lead of hundreds of towns and cities around the world, and some national parliaments, who have also declared a “climate emergency”.

Of course, the obvious question is: what does it mean in practice? EU parliamentarians themselves have recognised that the declaration is a symbolic step, and that what really matters are the actions EU politicians take to back it up. 

When your house is on fire, can you really afford the time to come up with declarations, or do you grab a bucket and do whatever you can to stop everything from burning?

As things stand, the rich EU countries carry the bulk of the historic responsibility for the current climate crisis – and they have consistently failed to rise to the challenge and put in place adequate solutions.

The current EU target is to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030. Both science and a sense of justice tell us that isn’t nowhere near good enough. The world needs to hit stop burning all fossil fuels by 2050 at the latest, if we’re still to have any chance of averting the worst impact of the climate crisis, and ensure a safe future for the generation of school strikers. Europe has both the responsibility, and the resources to lead the way, adapt its economies and rapidly transition away from all fossil fuels. All it takes is political will.

So what can the EU do to go beyond declarations, and take meaningful action?

Here’s a quick recap:

1. End the use of fossil fuels. Stop permitting any new fossil fuels projects, and rapidly phase out existing coal, oil and gas infrastructure.

2. Stop financing and subsidising the fossil fuel industry, now. End fossil finance.

3. Invest in a just, equitable, 100% renewable Green New Deal for Europe.

Firstly, and most obviously, the European Union and its member states need to stop supporting the expansion of the fossil fuel industry that has got us into this mess. That means an immediate halt to all kinds of fossil fuel expansion, including all the gas projects currently included on the European Commission’s “Projects of Common Interest” list. And it means a rapid phase out existing fossil fuels and the infrustructure build to dig, burn and transport coal, oil and gas. A good start would be for Germany, a de-facto leading economy in the EU, to revisit their disastrous plans to keep burning coal until 2038.

Secondly, the EU needs to act to end European financing of fossil fuels, and any and all financial incentives and subsidies going to the coal, oil and gas industry. The European Investment Bank has recently shown real leadership in this area. The European Central Bank should follow, by divesting their own holdings in fossil fuels and by regulating commercial banks to prevent them from funding catastrophic fossil fuel projects in Europe and around the world. 

And thirdly, we need to see investment and political support for a Green New Deal for Europe that will tackle both the climate crisis, and the extreme inequality that we currently see in our societies. A real Green New Deal will be one which gives everyone access to clean, sustainable energy. That creates decent jobs, including for those who currently work in high-polluting sectors, and provides everyone with access to good housing and essential public services. And that recognises Europe’s responsibilities to the rest of the world, providing support and reparations to countries that have been least responsible for causing climate change, but which are already feeling the worst impacts of it, and to people who have been displaced from their homes in those countries as a result of climate change. 

If the EU parliament’s declaration creates the spark which finally pushes the European Union’s decision makers to adopt these measures, then we’ll know that their declaration of a “climate emergency” isn’t just more hot air. 

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