Short-haul flight bans and senior Swiss women taking the government to court are just some of the positive climate stories we’ve seen this year.
Every year more than a billion people mark Earth Day by taking action to protect the planet.
Earth Day 2023 is just a few weeks away, on Sunday 22 April.
It was first celebrated in 1970 when a US senator from the state of Wisconsin organised a rally to raise awareness of environmental issues. Thousands of people took part in demonstrations across the country and by the end of the year, the US government had created the Environmental Protection Agency.
Now it is celebrated in more than 190 different countries with people taking part in events organised by EARTHDAY.ORG. This year’s theme is Invest in Our Planet which includes a call to “act (boldly), innovate (broadly) and implement (equitably)”.
So if you are looking for some inspiration ahead of 22 April, we’ve rounded up some good news stories and climate heroes that represent this “green revolution”.
Renewables break energy records signalling the ‘end of the fossil age’
Renewable energy broke records last year generating 12 per cent of the world’s electricity.
Despite the ongoing energy crisis, fears over a return to coal were unfounded. While wind and solar met 80 per cent of the growth in global electricity demand during 2022, coal-powered generation rose by just 1.1 per cent.
The report from clean energy think tank Ember also predicts that, while the small rise in coal pushed emissions to an all-time high, 2022 will end up being the peak of pollution.
Experts say the stage is set for a “meteoric rise to the top” for wind and solar. The move away from coal and gas suggests we are approaching “the beginning of the end of the fossil age”.
Wind and solar power produced more of the EU’s electricity than fossil gas for the first time last year. Renewables were responsible for a record 22 per cent of the bloc’s energy with the EU avoiding the “worst of the energy crisis” Ember says.
And the US broke records for renewables last year too. Carbon-free sources supplied more than 40 per cent of the country’s total energy output in 2022 - an all-time high. The figure combines solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power.
Read more about record-breaking renewables here
The UN is turning to young people for advice on the best way forward
The United Nations has just appointed seven new members to the UN Youth Advisory Group on climate change. This board of young advocates will advise the United Nations on climate action and policies - underlining the essential role of young people in tackling the climate crisis head-on.
They are a diverse group which includes Indigenous land defenders, educators, activists and advocates from all over the world.
According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the “unrelenting conviction of young people is central to keeping climate goals within reach, kicking the world’s addiction to fossil fuels and delivering climate justice.”
Beniamin Strzelcki is one of the new members of the UN Youth Advisory Group on climate change. We spoke to him earlier this year to find out how he plans to bring issues like the energy transition to the table.
European Court of Human Rights hears its first-ever climate case
With an average age of 73, Klimaseniorinnen might not be the first group you’d expect to take their government to court.
But their age is part of the reason why this climate case is so significant. These senior Swiss activists claim that the government has infringed on the right to life and health of elderly women.
Elisabeth Stern, a member of KlimaSeniorinnen told Euronews Green it was “the first time ever that a court has to decide on whether climate protection is a human right.”
After a six-year legal battle in Switzerland’s courts, they escalated their claim to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg where it was heard in March this year.
The verdict will be delivered after the court’s summer break and it could have important repercussions not only for the 46 member states of the European Council but the whole world.
Read more about the senior Swiss women’s climate case here
Shell’s board of directors sued in first-of-its-kind climate case
Another in the slew of revolutionary climate cases we’ve seen this year is one being brought against Shell’s board of directors. It was filed in February by Environmental law charity ClientEarth.
The charity says it is the first in the world that looks to hold corporate directors personally responsible for failing to prepare for the energy transition. Its claim? That Shell has breached their legal duty under UK law by not bringing their climate strategy in line with the Paris Agreement.
The legal experts say this leaves Shell - as well as investments and pension funds - seriously exposed to climate risks.
We spoke to ClientEarth senior lawyer Paul Benson about exactly why a lawsuit like this is necessary to get fossil fuel giants to change their ways.
Read more about the Shell lawsuit here
German mayors give climate activists (some) of what they want
Cities across Germany have been striking deals with climate activists to stop roads from being blocked by protestors.
Several mayors, including those from Hannover and Marburg, came together with protest group Last Generation to reach an agreement on their demands. It includes measures like reducing speed limits, citizens’ councils and low-cost public transport.
We spoke to Last Generation and the city mayors to find out how and why they were reaching common ground over climate change.
Read more about the agreements here
Luxembourg leads the way on free public transport
Luxembourg has just marked three years of free public transport. In this tiny EU state, almost everyone who uses trams, buses and trains says they are happy with the initiative.
“Since it's free, it's easier to make a decision quickly, to choose between public transport or a private car. This means that it is very positive for the environment and practical,” one tram user said on the anniversary of its introduction.
Luxembourg is Europe’s richest country but the initiative is funded by taxpayers' money. Luxembourg’s Minister of Mobility and Public Works says this makes it more equitable.
“Those who pay little tax pay nothing or very little in this system, it's really free. And those who pay more tax, obviously, they have a price that is perhaps a little higher,” according to François Bausch.
Read more about Luxembourg’s three years of free transport here
France bans short-haul flights in favour of train travel
Earlier this year, France was given the green light to ban short-haul domestic flights.
When the measures were first announced in 2022, they were challenged by the aviation industry. It led to an in-depth investigation as to whether the plans could go ahead or not.
But in April, the European Commission approved the move which will abolish flights between cities that are linked by a train journey of less than 2.5 hours.
The French government says it will take a while for the ban to officially be in place but it is hoping that it can be implemented “as quickly as possible”. Transport Minister Clément Beaune also believes that EU-wide action with measures like this is the best way to curb the gas-guzzling age of air travel.