Small changes, big world: An inspiration for Europe and middle-income countries fighting climate change

The urge to act against climate change is ever growing, as shown by the recent strikes all over the globe, where thousands of youths called their governments to act against rising temperatures. This is just one of the many examples of how citizens are mobilising to raise awareness and call for politicians to pay greater attention – and do more – about climate change. In this blog, we explore how leaders in Europe and in major emitter countries can get inspired by ordinary people.

What's on this page
    % Complete

      Mothers of invention’ is one of our favourite climate podcasts. Here, former Irish President Mary Robinson and comedian Maeve Higgins introduce us to enlightened women fighting climate change globally. This includes boycotting by the seasoned South African activist Yvette Abrahams or ordinary people like Rachelle Strauss’ family, who cut their waste to one bin per year. Last week, the #FridayforFuture initiative called for young people to strike in favour of concrete action, from Uganda to Santiago de Chile and Berlin. There is so much going on at the grassroots level, so we wonder: why are we doing so well on the small scale, while we risk failing massively in the grand scheme of things when facing climate change?

      Much still remains to be done for a socially fair transition to a sustainable existence on this planet. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report implies a strong message: we need to act now to avoid a climate calamity. To remain under a 1.5°C temperature increase, we need to at least halve our emissions by 2030, followed by zero emissions. Climate investments need to grow massively. For middle-income countries, where emissions are high, the good news is that addressing climate change can help reduce other key problems such as poverty and inequality. Fairer societies can do good for the climate too.

      No sustainable development without international cooperation

      The IPCC report suggests that there’s no climate-resilient and socially just future without international collaboration for sustainable development support. The EU institutions are important players in this.

      Together, the European Commission (EC), European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) disbursed €9.5 billion to climate-related international development finance in 2016. The EC alone was the third largest climate donor globally, with €5.3 billion, after Japan and Germany.

      However, considering the scale of the challenge, Europe could do more. The EC has proposed to increase climate mainstreaming to 25% in the future 2021-2027 EU budget, but the European Parliament is asking for much more and some member states could go in a similar direction – bearing in mind that the EIB and EBRD have set higher commitments (35% and 40% respectively).

      EU resources are heavily invested in middle-income countries. In 2016, they received 58% of the pie, but the majority of resources went to the European Neighbourhood. Still, the EU’s phasing out of bilateral aid from some countries has left gaps in countries that are major emitters and, simultaneously, have deeply rooted poverty and inequality (think of India, Indonesia or Brazil).

      Small-scale financial resources could oil the diplomatic machine, enable innovation or support civil society in these countries. Space to increase resources to MICs, without taking away from the poorest countries, is tight. Still, such trade-offs could be eased by using better EU tools and focusing on clear priorities.

      Programming will tell what comes next

      China offers an interesting example here. EU expertise, multiple diplomatic pushes and China’s growing green economy interests have been essential in establishing the Chinese emissions trading scheme and building domestic capacity for clean technologies. Moreover, possible collaboration exists in the Euro-Asia region.

      However, China might be more the exception than the rule. For example, EU-Ghana cooperation on climate has been far less successful, given a combination of national disinterest and European weaknesses. Major flaws exist in other countries too.

      In the course of 2019, the programming of EU resources for the period 2021-2027 will put together some pieces of the puzzle. The joint programming preference for the next phase could help the EU and member states to collaborate better on climate, including on national diplomacy and financing.

      Possible country framework documents, envisioned by the newly proposed Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) regulation, could help clarify EU climate priorities for each partner country and bring to life the intention to make EU action more strategic. It could also put forward policy coherence, for example in trade negotiations or energy procurement.

      The inseparable couple: European diplomacy and domestic action

      As with the podcast, celebrating small successes forms an important base for further action. European diplomacy has been relatively good at finding ways for collaboration in climate negotiations with countries in the south. Its intention to scale up climate diplomacy is very welcome.

      Still, high-level statements need to be matched by increased capacity in non-climate fora where the EU support of climate is often light, such as the G20 and in more advanced developing countries. EU politics needs to keep climate as a priority, particularly when national interests in certain areas – such as migration – often take the upper hand and slow down domestic climate action.

      At the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24), an agreement was reached on the rulebook, including on common reporting of national efforts and of financing. Still, reporting requirements – on financing in particular – are quite relaxed and language on future national efforts could have been stronger.

      Last year, the EU signed up to tighter energy objectives by 2030 and launched its long-term climate vision, which includes a climate-neutral scenario to be achieved by 2050. This will inform policy discussions to present the EU’s climate strategy at COP26 in 2020.

      During COP24, other countries signalled a willingness to increase their commitments too, including India. Although a strong recognition of scientific facts did not make its way into the agreement, they are as real as ever and mitigation targets will still need to increase.

      European domestic performance, its international contributions and diplomacy hold phenomenal value to make progress. Moreover, bringing in voices from the ground – such as the ones echoed in the ‘Mothers of Invention’ podcast and those of the youth – into these spaces can be beneficial. Next stop is the UN Climate Action summit in September. It’s time for policymakers to enable change and, who knows, get inspired by those ordinary people who are already making it happen.

      The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ECDPM.

      In addition to structural support by ECDPM’s institutional partners: The Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and Austria, this publication also benefits from funding by UK aid from the Department for International Development (DFID), United Kingdom

      Loading Conversation