Despite the rising death toll from floods in the Balkans, it’s been a few weeks since our TV screens were filled with images of Somerset villages under water and climate change is hardly registering in people’s consciousness ahead of today’s elections across the UK.
But the devastating impacts of freak weather events and climate change are making themselves felt in Europe with increasing frequency.
Let’s be clear: climate change is a truly global problem, and we need to tackle it fairly. It is the developed world which has caused the lion’s share of the emissions which are already causing devastating climate change – and poorer developing countries that are paying the heaviest price.
But according to the European Environment Agency, climate change is coming home – and we’re likely to see more homes and businesses flooded, and more cold and heat-related deaths, in the UK as a result.
And the make-up of the European Parliament – the EU’s only democratically-elected institution – will determine, in large part, whether or not we’re likely to see the international action required to lessen these impacts.
Why? Because next year sees crucial climate change talks at which world leaders will gather in Paris to determine how best to replace the now-defunct Kyoto Protocol. They will set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a methodology for achieving these reductions (setting targets, for example, on energy conservation, renewable energy generation and so on), financial and technological help for developing world countries to help meet the terms of whatever agreements are reached, and, just maybe, strict sanctions on those countries that fail to play their part.
In short, they could agree a road-map for turning the climate change behemoth round – and meeting the existing global commitment to keep mean temperature rises below two degrees centigrade by the end of this century.
Scientists agree that failure to do so would push us over the tipping point of being able to accurately predict or control our climate at all.
But they’ll only do this if a significant world power plays a leadership role – and makes it happen.
Having seen other world powers’ attitudes at previous climate talks, the only hope we’ve got is if the EU plays that role, and goes further, faster, than other countries and power blocs, and is prepared to give more than it takes in order to make sure a deal is done. And that will only happen if the European Parliament insists that it does so.
Last year, thanks in large part to the fact that the Greens made up the fourth-largest political group in Brussels, the EU agreed some of the toughest climate change mitigation measures in the world: to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030, and to generate 27% of its electricity from renewable sources. But we need to go much further.
A Parliament made up of climate sceptics, those putting national interest above international agreements, and apologists for those industries that have tended to contribute most to greenhouse gas emissions is likely to be one that doesn’t see a successful outcome of next year’s Paris talks. I’m not sure we’ll get another chance. These elections really matter.