Europe’s Moonshot: An Argument for Environmental Optimism

The European Union, a political and economic union consisting of 27 European nations, announced, during the second week of the 25th Conference of Parties, an ambitious “Green Deal for Europe” which will attempt to drive the continent to carbon neutrality by 2050– and be the first continent to do so. The Deal is remarkable in that it encompasses the 3rd largest carbon emitting block, just behind China and the United States of America. Indeed, the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen described the initiative as the European ‘[person] on the moon moment’, which I think is an apt aphorism depicting the scale of the problem and its requisite solution. While critics have rightly argued that the EU is not sufficiently ambitious, I present my argument for the significance of this watershed in the path to zero carbon emissions globally.

The Green Deal is broad in its scope and will attempt to encompass the following strategies in its effort to propel Europe to be the first carbon neutral continent:

  • Invest in environmentally friendly technologies;
  • Support industrial pivot to carbon neutrality;
  • Develop cleaner, cheaper, and healthier transportation;
  • Decarbonize energy generation;
  • Develop energy efficient architecture;
  • Commit to a just transition by providing financial assistance to underdeveloped European nations;
  • Provide global leadership.

While it may be rightly argued that these are unbelievably empty words, it is however a necessary first step in the right direction. The timeline presented by the EU acknowledges this fact with the aforementioned points only being a “presentation” of the Deal with additional decades-long initiatives looking at their implementation.

Crucially, the Green Deal is predicated on the 2018 IPCC Special Report, where climate scientists asserted that the timeline for an irreversibly changed climate due to anthropogenic emissions can be measured in years and not decades. This science-based approach also dispels the common straw-man argument presented by skeptics of a need for robust and resilient mitigation and adaptation strategies to a changing climate– the ostensibly permanent economic fallout of decarbonizing commercial interests. The science and the economics of the subject are clear on the matter– yes, short-term costs will be incurred, but the long-term prosperity of decarbonizing far, far outweigh these and not taking action will present a complete agitation of global markets.

A figure from the 2018 IPCC Special Report demonstrating that a 1.5C change is inevitable.

As the EU begins to implement its Green Deal, the benefits of a just transition to carbon neutrality will be unequivocally demonstrated. It will become a leader in global carbon policy-making as a rational voice on the subject. My thesis of global optimism is based on the fact that other large carbon emitting nations such as China, USA, and India will be under pressure to match the EU in the scope of their ambitions. Not only will citizens call for a government to provide the same carbon-related benefits (such as of a carbon tax) but governments themselves will feel the need to preserve their prestige in the face of such a space race. Granted, this presumes the presence of government leaders who maintain the sanctity of the scientific method as the guiding principle in developing national policy– ones who do not have a compromised definition of truth and justice. With American elections scheduled for November 2020, it is therefore crucial that we elect a government that acknowledge the threats presented in The Convention and looks to compete with the EU in achieving carbon neutrality as early as possible.

Author: Akash Shah (akashah@umich.edu)– COP 25 delegate.

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