Action on climate and biodiversity under attack as EU term ends

In recent weeks, two stories broke, almost simultaneously, that caused shockwaves amongst environmentalists and climate campaigners.

The first was a warning from Simon Stiell, the most senior climate figures at the United Nations. His message was stark: Governments, business leaders and development banks have just two years to avert the most devastating consequences of climate change. He described the next two years as essential to save the planet. This is a significant acceleration in urgency from the UN, who have previously identified 2030 as the key date by which emissions must be slashed to keep the world on track to meet the objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement. Stiell warned that climate change was slipping down the political agenda, and that more ambitious national climate plans were required to effectively drive down emissions.

The second news shock was the leaking of the draft EU strategic agenda, currently being prepared for the next European Union mandate from 2024 to 2029. This document, being prepared behind the scenes in anticipation of the next European Commission’s political priorities, has completely dropped environmental protection and climate change from Europe’s plans for the next five years. The only mention of ‘environment’ in the document was the EU’s pledge to create a ‘business-friendly environment’. The European Green Deal, the flagship policy package of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, is gone – nowhere to be found.

Of course, we have seen the political system in Brussels, which has championed the EU as a climate leader since 2019, sliding back on the green agenda in real time. Ambitious legislation proposed by the European Commission in recent years is arriving for final endorsement by the European Parliament as a shadow of its former self – hollowed out and weakened beyond all recognition. And even legislation that makes it through the full legislative process – like the Nature Restoration Law, is being held captive by the European Council, who refuse to give it the approval required at this stage, despite having already been agreed by all stakeholders through the European Union’s trilogue negotiations. But to see the European Commission’s flagship legislative package in the Green Deal, and any substantive mention of climate and environment, gutted from Europe’s agenda was, until now, beyond imagination.

This is against the climate backdrop of temperature records being shattered month-on-month, Irish farmers suffering biblical bouts of rainfall, ocean temperatures at never-before-seen levels, and emerging threats to the stability of the Atlantic Ocean circulation system – a key climate tipping point that must be avoided if Ireland is to maintain its temperate climate.

Right at the moment when we need more ambition on climate action and environmental protection, we’re getting far less. At a time when the UN is calling for us to accelerate progress, the European Union wants to go backwards.

Significant progress was made in this term – The European Green Deal saw the adoption of the first ever European Climate Law, new laws to slash the mountain of packaging waste generated, a European ‘Right to Repair’ to tackle the planned breakdown of electronics and utilities, ambitious food waste targets to ban supermarkets from throwing away good food, the now-stalled Nature Restoration Law.

But now, this progress – and our chance at avoiding climate catastrophe, is under threat as the centre-right European People’s Party shed their green clothes and drop climate and environment from the agenda completely.

To turn away from climate action and environmental protection now would be a historic mistake, and undermine the future safety and security of every citizen in Ireland, Europe and around the world.

Grace O'Sullivan

Grace O'Sullivan is the Green Party MEP for Ireland South, former Senator, mother, former Greenpeace activist, & ecologist.

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