Today is World Environment Day, and countries like Germany are still battling with huge environmental issues caused by decades of disregarding the global crisis that is climate change. In Germany, decades of open-cast mining have led to environmental pollution causing health issues, and our agricultural policy has led to a dramatic loss of biodiversity in our forests and fields. On top of that, Germany opened a new coal-fired power plant last week.
The pandemic has brought many countries to their knees and shifted people’s attention away from another global crisis that will impact billions of people. Climate change has already started destroying not only our planet but our lives, too; more than 22.5 million people per year are forcibly displaced due to extreme weather disasters. By 2050, 140 million more will be added to that figure. Climate change is a ticking bomb that can only be disarmed if we work as one. This sword of Damocles is putting human existence into question.
Following months of lockdown, the future suddenly looks less gloomy. Over the first quarter of 2020, global emissions were down by 5% and global energy demand has declined by 3.8%. This could be one of the biggest reductions in CO2 emissions on record.
However, this is far from being enough. As we speak, governments around the world have prioritised the fight against the virus, and - intentionally or not - abandoned several of their commitments to the climate. In some countries, the situation is worse as passivity leaves room for damaging actions that will put our planet further at risk. It is the case of Canada, where Alberta's energy minister, Sonya Savage said that a ban on public protests due to coronavirus meant that now is a "great time" to build a pipeline. In Germany, Uniper, a company owned by a Finnish state-owned enterprise, opened a coal power station on the edge of Datteln to protests.
Times of crisis are often times of change. The key question is whether Germany will step up to the challenge, whether it will be the progressive force leading the world out of darkness? As the popular saying goes, there is no better time than the present, especially due to Germany’s upcoming role on the international scene. Indeed, July will mark the start of Germany’s semester as the EU Council president, but most importantly, although admittedly more often overlooked, Germany will also chair the United Nations Security Council that month.
While the UN has often been paralysed in recent crises because of its deep divisions and outdated governance structure, the Security Council still holds huge power when the world faces threats to peace or security. As defined by Chapter VII of the UN Charter, a threat to peace (such as climate change) would oblige the UN to make recommendations, or decide which measures to take to counter it. Those decisions would be binding on all member states.
While this treaty article has been largely utilised for war and humanitarian crises, it should now be used to deal with the climate crisis. There is a large consensus that the deterioration of our environment will cause a sharp increase in displacement, famine, and conflicts. As UN Secretary-General, António Guterres has stated: “Today peace faces a new danger: the climate emergency, which threatens our security, our livelihoods and our lives.”
As such, Germany can have a pivotal role in declaring a Global Climate Emergency, which would push the world to acknowledge the existence of this threat, and take necessary steps to counter it. For example, the UN Security Council could demand that all countries stick to the Paris Agreement, or otherwise face sanctions.
The clock is ticking. In less than a month, the world will be watching as Germany chairs the most important intergovernmental organisation on earth. The world will be watching whether Chancellor Merkel's previously strongly-worded declarations on the climate crisis are met with equally powerful actions. Tackling climate change is indeed a matter of survival.
- Colombe Cahen-Salvador and Andrea Venzon are co-founders of Now!, a global movement pushing for humanity to work as one to solve the biggest challenges of our time
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