Teen activist Greta Thunberg reminded EU ministers on Thursday (5 March) about the rapidly declining amount of carbon dioxide that world nations are still allowed to emit before the rise in global temperatures risks hitting dangerous levels.
Thunberg was invited to address the EU’s 27 environment ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday to exchange views on the EU Green Deal and the latest proposal for a European Climate Law.
Unveiled on Wednesday (4 March) by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the Climate Law aims to enshrine the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality objective into legislation, ensuring that the EU remains on a path to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century.
Environmentalists have criticised the proposal for failing to include an intermediary target for 2030, but the Commission dismissed those calls saying it needed more time, until September, to produce a detailed cost-benefit analysis.
The study, due in September, will look into the impact of upgrading the EU’s climate target to a 50-55% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030, up from 40% currently.
But Thunberg said 2030 was too late and urged EU ministers to take action immediately, warning that every day lost in reducing emissions pushes the world closer to the brink of climate catastrophe.
420 GT of CO2 left to emit as of January 2018
In a short address, Thunberg drew attention to the last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which estimates the world’s remaining carbon budget – the amount of CO2 that world nations can emit before climate change risks spiralling out of control.
“On page 108, it says that if we want to have a 67% chance approximately to limit the global average temperature rise to below 1.5°C, we had on January 1st 2018 about 420 GT of CO2 left to emit in that budget,” Thunberg said.
If world nations continue to emit carbon like today’s business as usual, “that remaining budget will be gone before we will even have a chance to deliver on those targets” for 2030 and 2050, she warned.
Moreover, the carbon budget doesn’t take account of feedback loops, tipping points and additional warming hidden by air pollution. Nor does it say anything about equity aspects of the Paris Agreement, which gives industrialised nations more responsibility to reduce emissions than poor countries, she added.
Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, in charge of overseeing the Green Deal, deflected those criticisms on Wednesday, saying the Commission had chosen a different approach by looking at all greenhouse gases, not just CO2.
Timmermans also said the Commission was looking at other ways of addressing the climate crisis, by preparing a biodiversity strategy and new laws on waste recycling later this year.
“The effect of what we do with the circular economy is much bigger than [Greta] anticipates,” the Dutchman told EURACTIV.
Danish energy minister Dan Jørgensen, who attended the Brussels meeting, applauded Thunberg for her courage, as well as the millions of other young climate activists around the globe who are striking for the climate.
“It sometimes takes a child to challenge the status quo and articulate an uncomfortable truth,” Jørgensen said, citing Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
The youth climate activists “are absolutely right,” the Danish minister added, calling on the EU executive to table a legislative proposal for a 2030 climate target “by June at the latest”.
Denmark was among a group of 12 EU countries that wrote a letter to the Commission on Monday and urged the EU executive to adopt its 2030 climate target by June, citing the September EU-China summit and the November UN climate summit as crucial milestones.