On 14 July, the European Commission unveiled its long-awaited “Fit for 55 Package”. As the EU bubble pored over the climate legislative proposals, Brussels was literally under downpour. A few hours later, Belgium’s Meuse River burst its banks, leaving more than 40 people dead and thousands homeless in the nearby region of Wallonia.
Summer of extremes
We know that Global temperatures have already risen by 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels. Still, summer 2021 has likely changed our understanding of what this really means. Historic floods have swept through Western Europe and South-East Asia while an unprecedented heat wave struck Western US and Canada, fuelling wildfires and severely endangering marine life. Peaking at 49.6°C, the Canadian village of Lytton – which is at the same latitude as London – got hotter than it’s ever been in Las Vegas.
Discussing these phenomena is no longer a matter of small talk about the weather over a coffee.
“The whole Northern Hemisphere have shown an unusual planetary wavy patterns in this summer. The connection of this large-scale disturbance of summer season with the warming of Arctic and the heat accumulation in the ocean needs to be investigated.”
Dr Omar Baddour, Climate Monitoring and Policy Division
World Meteorological Organisation
Extreme weather events are not distinct, coincidental hazards, but the result of a complex and dynamic climate system. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has long projected such events as the first consequences of a world that has warmed by 1°C. Even though some poorer countries have been experiencing this for years, it was not until the world’s wealthiest countries begun to be affected that the issue was taken more seriously.
In this climate change saga, the planet is heading towards a 3°C warming by 2100 – well above the 2°C limit set by the Paris climate agreement.
The day after tomorrow
At 3°C, the Earth is getting hotter than it has ever been in 3 million years. The Arctic ice cap and Amazon rainforest – on the verge of crossing their tipping points – could be gone for good. We humans will face a drop in global food production and large-scale migration.
People living in regions that are warming faster than the global average are already experiencing this on a daily basis. The shrinking of Africa’s Chad lake has worsened the socio-economic situation in the Sahel region, leading to massive migration. The rapid warming of Madagascar, hit by successive floods and droughts, has pushed 400,000 people to the edge of starvation in what has been described as the first climate change-linked famine by the United Nations.
There is no turning back from a 1°C world – no matter what we do. At this stage, the real question is: how can we act to limit this increase and keep the warming as close as possible to the Paris Agreement target?
The pathway to climate neutrality
In this fight, the EU has more responsibility than ever to lead on the global stage. The “Fit for 55 Package” aims to cut down EU greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, unveiling an all-encompassing approach to achieving climate neutrality by 2050. By comprehensively covering the EU’s strategic sectors (e.g. industry, transport, building, energy), natural resources and trading partners, the proposals foster the uptake of renewable energy and move away from a fossil fuels-based model.
The “Fit for 55” Package will now be discussed by the European Council and the European Parliament in the coming months. Amendments through the legislative process will tell us how ambitious EU climate policy actually is, for our own and future generations. We can be sure of only one thing for now: never has the degree of action mattered so much.