On 3 March, Greta Thunberg and some Fridays for Future activists addressed an open letter to the European Commission and were allocated speaking time at the European Parliament, which granted them an exemption to the anti-Covid-19 lockdown.
They clearly identified the targets of their protest. Signed by 34 climate activists, including Greta herself, the letter reflects the strikers’ new approach: asking much more from European and national institutions in a harsher and more direct way. The open letter clearly states that the EU’s new Climate Law should be seen as a surrender and emphasises the need for more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, not in 2030 or in 2050 but now.
Furthermore, and most importantly, the authors of the letter explicitly identify those who they deem responsible to take action now: national leaders, the European Commission and the European Parliament.
No one can deny the very important social and political role played by the global climate strikes launched and led by Greta. By giving voice to millions of people from every corner of the world, one of the most urgent global problems has been put back to the centre of public and institutional debates. The Swedish activist has "forced" the institutions to deal with this crisis caused almost entirely by human activity. However, if not translated into concrete proposals, the risk for these protests is to lose their influence in the public and political debate.
The tools used by the strikers to fight climate change have not evolved much and I fear that they are not enough to find concrete solutions to the climate emergency we are going through. The problem of the Fridays for Future movement is that it does not specify how to reach certain goals. Greta is right when she points out that finding solutions is not her job. But we, as citizens, can all play our part thanks to participatory democracy. As the coordinator of a public campaign, I am happy to share some proposals that I hope will be embraced by Greta and her supporters.
Policies to tackle global warming generally do not bring results in the immediate future nor consensus and votes to the political and institutional actors who implement them. In fact, politicians’ scope for action is marked by electoral deadlines, clashing with what is citizens’ own self-interest: having a better future beyond the electoral contingencies which are supposed to bring the necessary measures to reduce climate-changing emissions. For these reasons, citizens should use all institutional tools available to them to address such emergencies.
One of these could be the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), a participatory democracy tool introduced by the Lisbon Treaty which, through the collection of 1 million signatures, enables European citizens to propose legislative changes to the European Commission in a policy area within its competence. With her massive media exposure and influence, the resolute Swedish activist could easily collect the necessary amount of signatures in just a few hours, and ensure the subject of the ECI enters the institutional arenas of the European Commission and the European Parliament.
Scientists have already identified what we have to do, that is to say implementing a much higher price for human emissions that are changing the climate, particularly carbon ones. More than 11,000 scientists, who agree that we are experiencing a climate emergency, have asserted that a higher price is needed on carbon. Furthermore, 27 Nobel Prize winners, along with more than 5,000 other scientists, claim that a price on carbon emissions is the most effective way to reduce emissions at the scale and speed needed to prevent the temperature rising by 2C.
Citizens are not doing enough, but they can do more and, most importantly, they can be the actors bringing solutions to the climate emergency.
A European Citizens' Initiative has already been registered, asking what more than 11,000 scientists and 27 Nobel Prize winners have already recommended. It is called StopGlobalWarming.eu and pushes for the introduction of a higher price on carbon, but we need to be 1,000,000 citizens in order to create enough critical mass to push the European Commission to do something to reduce CO2 emissions now. You could sign on StopGlobalWarming.eu and help make a difference in the dealing with the climate emergency. Let’s do this!
Carlo Maresca is a student of Environmental Economics at Universitá Luigi Bocconi in Milano. He coordinates as a volunteer the European Citizens Initiative StopGlobalWarming.eu, which asks for carbon pricing to fight climate change.
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