Born Young People a Cosmopolitan Movement against Global Warming

Roberto Palea
Member and former President of the Centre for Studies on Federalism

Young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s statements – which have circulated around the world and sparked off the protest of hundreds of thousands of young people from hundreds of countries all over the world against government inaction on global warming – reminded me of Andersen’s Danish fairy tale about the emperor’s new clothes, in which the voice of an innocent child who dared to shout: “the king is naked” spoke the truth to the multitude of complacent or just gullible subjects.

Addressing her parents, peers and world leaders, one of the things Greta said was: “Maybe one day my children will ask me about you. They will ask why you didn’t do anything, while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you’re stealing their future in front of their very eyes. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. (...) Politics is also responsible to tomorrow’s voters. (...) Governments must sign and implement the Paris Agreements, taking into account the IPCC recommendations, which set the limit not to be exceeded at +1.5 °C” above pre-industrial levels to avoid environmental disaster.

With these watchwords, millions of young people and very young people have stepped out into the world as key players to remind people that we are running out of time: either we change our development model, still based on fossil fuels and not on renewable energies, with no urban and industrial waste recycling and a great waste of water and natural resources (by definition “finite”), or we risk compromising the very existence of the human race.

In the short term, we risk being plunged into a worse financial and economic crisis than the last in 2008, and experiencing even worse violence than that of the wars we are witnessing, because the unequal consumption of natural resources and migrations generated by the progressive soil desertification will further aggravate conflicts and tensions among peoples.

Suddenly, Trump’s statements that the US has used up all its available energy sources to support its economic growth, as well as the statements from all world governments, including those from both the developed and non-developed world, reiterating that the fight against climate change should start elsewhere, certainly not in their own country, sound irresponsible, and laden with guilt towards their own citizens and future generations.

The #FridayforFuture protesters marched with banners bearing slogans with similar declarations and demonstrating a truly commendable level of awareness and information. They showed to be  entirely unfettered by the constraints of political parties, and avoided all the hierarchies in the various levels of government, collectively addressing world governments and blaming their inaction or inadequate action in the face of environmental disaster.

With their constant reference to the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreements and the December 2018 IPCC special report, they show their willingness to interface directly, at a global level, with the UN and in particular with the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) Secretariat, which presides over intergovernmental climate negotiations, recognising the “global” nature of climate change that should be tackled together by all the countries of the world.

Greta Thunberg continued this action by attending the United Nations Climate Summit on 23 September. In front of the UN Assembly, Greta delivered what is destined to become an iconic speech: “We are at the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money. How dare you?” Greta then went to Madrid, to the UN COP 25 on climate change, which brought together almost two hundred countries to talk, once again, about the implementation of the Paris Agreement of 2015.

But Greta's cry fell on deaf ears: COP 25 ended without any meaningful results. None of the countries are prepared to make the radical choices that are needed, for fear of upsetting their electorates and proposing measures that could put their national economies at risk in the short term.

In clear contrast, and with courage and conviction, the European Parliament and the newly elected European Commission, chaired by Ursula von der Leyen, have confirmed their firm intent to make the EU the first zero-climate-impact continent by 2050, also because Europe has the responsibility to show the other continents the path that needs to be taken. They have also committed themselves to reducing carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 (well above the limit of 40% previously set by the EU), while announcing the launch of an ambitious Green New Deal for the EU.

The first response to the youth movement is, therefore, coming from the EU.

Now the EU should set up an Agency for the Environment and Energy based on the model of the 1951 European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and endowed with supranational powers as well as adequate financial resources. With a considerable degree of autonomy and under unified management, it would enable the implementation of effective policies to reduce polluting emissions, develop renewable energies in order to let the EU achieve energy self-sufficiency and launch a circular economy. Not to mention the more effective commitment that the EU must make to the migration phenomenon and in favour of Africa’s economic development, in partnership with the countries concerned, by providing its technologies, first and foremost, to produce electricity in the solar-rich countries, which is a key factor for the growth of agriculture, handicrafts and industry.

The proposed Agency for the Environment and Energy could finance its activities by imposing a carbon tax, as we have discussed several times, and in accordance with the procedures already specified.

The cosmopolitan movement against global warming can find a direction and a programme in support of this proposal which, if implemented, would increase the EU’s strategic role by giving it the strength to extend its initiatives to the whole world and ensure that the global environmental policy makes at last the qualitative leap it has been lacking so far.

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