School students call for action against climate change at a rally in central Athens.
Europe was the driving force behind the Paris Agreement. Since then, despite the exit of the United States from the agreement all together, world awareness of the clear scientific consensus has grown: Climate change is the top priority of our time. As an environmental engineer, I understand the problem we are facing. As a parliamentarian, I see the urgency to act. Europe must continue leading the world in the fight against climate change, as time is running out.
We cannot deny the existence of climate change as the populists do; and we cannot fight climate change only with policies of stop signs and taxes. We believe that the power of education and innovation are much more important than abstract promises of emission reduction targets. The radical transformation of our economies can only occur by involving citizens. We must educate societies to change their consumption behavior and align the power of innovation and competition with the climate issue.
Already 4 million Europeans are employed in the green economy, and that number will continue to grow. This figure shows the importance of combining environmental protection with education and entrepreneurship. Europeans must be convinced that this historic effort will not only create disruption, but also wealth and prosperity.
We need to invest in research purposefully to create sustainable low-carbon technologies. Europe, among other areas, needs to drive the transport sector to develop e-mobility solutions and to lead in the production of a new generation of clean airplanes.
We know emerging economies are among the world’s biggest polluters. We cannot and we should not stop their economic progress; nevertheless, Europe has a crucial role to play in nudging them toward true progress: striking a balance between prosperity and environmental responsibility.
Only Europe can play this crucial role, because we were the first to understand that no country can fight climate change alone. We now need to pool our economic and political power to make sure the rest of the world matches our climate ambitions. With less than 9 percent of global emissions, Europe’s efforts to fight climate change will only be a drop of clean water in an ocean of pollution if China, India and others do not join us. The 25th COP meeting in Madrid further underlines the fact that our ambition is the exception to the rule.
We need a person entirely dedicated to convincing our partners abroad. This is why I propose appointing an EU ambassador for climate change who would be entrusted, on behalf of Europe, to engage with third countries, to mobilize their support to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and even more ambitious goals. We have an EU chief negotiator to deal with Brexit.
The future of our planet is an even bigger concern: We need someone to spearhead our diplomatic efforts on this crucial front. This person should be placed under the direct authority of the European Commission president, receive a mandate from the European Council, and report regularly to the European Parliament, just like Michel Barnier has been doing on the Brexit negotiations. Awareness of this global fight cannot only be in the hands of Greta Thunberg.
Europe is already a guiding light when it comes to environmental standards, but we can do much more. With a unified vision, we can leave our planet better than we found it. If not us, who will? Europe must take up this responsibility and our European way of life has all it takes to succeed. We can build a safe home for our children, if we do it together.
Manfred Weber is the chairman of the European People’s Party Group.