Speech at the Your Europe, Your Say! (YEYS) event

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Dear Students, Dear Teachers,

Dear Anuna de Wever,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you online for the 12th edition of Your Europe, Your Say!

It is with great sadness that I cannot meet and salute you in person, after all the work and enthusiasm you have put in preparing for the event.

But I'm delighted to see so many of you here today – indeed, holding the event online permits us to be even more numerous and to include even more students in the debate. We are almost 300 participants present here.

This fulfils me with pride and hope for the future, as the next generation of Europeans seems in good hands, when I hear about your involvement and hard work.

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank your teachers, who, despite this very difficult year, have given you the opportunity to be here. I salute your commitment to get your students involved in defining Europe's future. We are very grateful to the fantastic job they do.

So, this year you will discuss climate change, as was planned for last year's edition. Due to Covid-19 crises, we unfortunately had to cancel it.

The whole world is now focused on fighting the virus, and rightly so. But other long-term challenges, such as global warming, have not disappeared.

The economic downturn has temporarily suppressed emissions. The 2.4 gigatonnes decline takes annual CO2 emissions back to where they were a decade ago. However, low economic growth is not a low-emissions strategy. Only structural changes to the way we produce and consume energy can break the emissions trend for good.

Recoveries from previous global economic crises have generally been accompanied by a large jump in emissions. A similar rebound in emissions can be expected after this crisis unless there is effort to place clean energy transitions at the heart of the economic recovery.

The prompt and targeted implementation of the EU financial programmes will play an important role here. I welcome that National Recovery and Resilience Plans will have to include a minimum of 37% of expenditure related to climate.

The green and digital transitions will be the driving force of Europe's recovery. We know that a carbon-neutral transition will modernise industry, and create new high-quality jobs and more job opportunities. The European Green Deal has set an ambitious target: Make Europe climate neutral. At the same time, we have to work on global solutions; only then, will we achieve any real impact on climate change.

We have to keep in mind that the largest percentage increase in emissions between 2018 and 2019 was found in China (+3.4%) and India (+1.6%); while Japan reduced its fossil CO2 emissions by 2.1%, the United States by 2.6% and Russia by 0.8%. In 2019, fossil CO2 emissions of the EU Member States and the UK fell by nearly 3.8%. Europe is only responsible for around 9% of the global CO2 emissions in 2019.

Having said that, Europe also has more home-work to do. And now is the time for action! Seeing your active involvement shows me that we are on the right track. We will only succeed and tackle global climate change, if we can achieve global action. In February, China launched a nationwide carbon market, requiring power generators to buy pollution permits if their plants overshoot carbon intensity targets. The market will initially only cover the thermal power industry – last year that accounted for about 40% of China’s emissions. That sector alone is responsible for twice the emissions of the EU carbon market. While some critics doubt the short term effects, it's a start. Moreover, the U.S. has officially rejoined the Paris climate agreement. That are encouraging news!

I'm very pleased to inform you that at the end of our event tomorrow you will be able to listen and talk to the person leading the fight against climate change at EU level: Mr. Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of the Green Deal.

He will be with us because, despite the pandemic and all its consequences, the European Green Deal is still a flagship priority of the European Union. Although EU environment and climate policies have improved over recent decades, Europe still faces problems in areas such as biodiversity loss, natural resource use, widespread pollution and global warming.

It is not only about the environment. A big concern is that climate change will impact most vulnerable and marginalised people. We need green transition to a green economy that leaves no one behind.

This means boosting green investments, promoting new lifestyles and consumption ways, and giving access to sustainable technologies to all people, groups and regions.

To achieve this, we need active citizens. This starts with involving young people … like you! This is why you are all here, participating in YEYS!

I think our next guest speaker Anuna de Wever is a perfect example of how young people - like yourselves! - can fight for a cause by supporting it and making concrete proposals to those who have the power to decide.

Making proposals that exclude no one is not an easy exercise. This is why, today and tomorrow, you will simulate a negotiation among opposing interests. In this way, you will understand the difficulties some sectors face, explore the challenges certain countries must deal with, and try to resolve the differences for the common good.

In the end, your conclusions will represent the position of European youth, expressing what you expect from us, and what the EU can do, and should do, to tackle the current climate crisis.

The result of your work will be handed-over to Mr Timmermans tomorrow and will be a valuable contribution to the EU Climate Pact. It will also be sent to the European Parliament, who is very keen in working with young people on climate change.

Dear students, we are here to listen to YOU. So negotiate well, and get inspired from experiences like this one. And remember that you too, can become a driving force for change.

I wish you a fruitful event and I am very much looking forward to the results of your work.


Your Europe, Your Say! (YEYS)