The EU has rightly been seen as paving the way for a global agreement on climate change. Good intentions have been translated into action during the past years. The sense of urgency has certainly risen. Just ahead of COP21, almost every country has shown its willingness to tackle the issue.
In spite of all good intentions, climate negotiations are painfully complex and cumbersome. This does not surprise an expert but it creates a huge political challenge.
Scientifically, climate change is a very simple issue. We release too much carbon and other pollutants into the atmosphere, cut down forests that naturally regulate the carbon cycle, and raise too much animals. Simply put, we saw off the very branch we are sitting on.
When one tries to legislate to control these issues, the scientific clarity vaporises. Excessive carbon release becomes a side effect of economic development, forest clearance is justified by the need to grow food for growing populations and animal husbandry just satisfies the increasing protein demand of wealthier populations.
Most of us agree, at least privately, that these harmful practices should be minimised. Many of us are willing to say that aloud. But very few of us knows what is to be done.
If there were simple solutions, they would have been presented. Managing climate change consists of a multitude of small steps, taken one step at a time.
As human beings, we are quite unprepared to tackle overhanging non-imminent threats. We observe our surroundings on a very concrete level, generally minding ourselves and our closest ones.
To control climate and minimise our harmful actions is like conquering space. It is possible but requires one simple goal, cooperation of a large number of people, diversion of funds from other sources and a sense of urgency.
Unlike in the space race, the climate race should not be antagonistic. Should we not act decisively, almost everyone will be a loser. Yet, everybody wins if we succeed.
Let me conclude by a plea for clarity. Amidst the alphabet soup of BAUs, BINGOs, CBDRs, HFCs, MBMs, REDs and SCFs it is easy to get lost in detail. We have to clearly communicate why action is needed. Who does what and when?
The EU itself is notorious for policies that are well planned but poorly executed. To maintain her mental sanity, an optimist has to believe that climate communication is an ongoing learning process.
It has been delightful to note the recent change of attitude of many of the big players. Funds and insurance companies are now actively divesting from the fossil fuels industry.
They have made the calculations. They are looking far ahead, sending a clear message: do not invest in the past.
We politicians should reinforce that message in Paris and beyond. Tell people what they can do. Educate children, inform adults. Stop unsustainable practices. Keep it simple.
Vice-president of the European Parliament
Member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
Published in the European Sting online edition 30th November 2015