COP21: an unprecedented mobilisation of civil society stakeholders
The Paris COP21 (Conference of the Parties of UNFCCC), which took place between 30 November and 12 December 2015, has resulted in reaching a historic agreement on keeping a global temperature rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue global efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. The unprecedented mobilisation of civil society stakeholders including trade unions, businesses, NGOs, communities, cities and regions was an important factor in contributing to the success of the conference. It demonstrated that climate governance and climate action rely heavily on the grassroots approaches of local climate actors, such as trade unions, companies, cities, communities,
It should be kept in mind that already the UN Climate Framework Convention of 1992 in its Article 2 called for the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The world has failed to meet that objective. Looking back on the Paris Agreement five years on, it is clear that by introducing the concept of global carbon neutrality, it changed the political discourse and put governments and stakeholders on an action-oriented pathway.
Simple adjustments to our lifestyles will not be enough
Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the plans for a COP26 in Glasgow had to be postponed until 2021. Along with bringing suffering, loss of lives and damage to millions of livelihoods, the pandemic has also demonstrated that to make a transition towards sustainable and climate-neutral economies and societies, simple adjustments of our lifestyles and ways of thinking will not be enough. However, the response of governments to the climate crisis thus far has been largely insufficient. We are facing a climate emergency: the year 2020 is set to be one of the third warmest years on record; the past decade was hottest in human history. Ocean heat is at record levels, with widespread marine heatwaves, and Arctic saw exceptional warmth. The recent UN Environment Programme Production Gap Report showed that countries are aiming to produce 120% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
Climate action and economic recovery must go hand in hand
For the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), climate action and the economic recovery and reconstruction from the Coronavirus crisis can and must go hand in hand. The recovery and reconstruction measures need to be in line with the climate objective. The EU should use the recovery process to propose a new vision of prosperity for people and planet based on the principles of environmental sustainability, the right to a decent life and the protection of social values. We must protects ecosystems, conserves biodiversity and delivers a just transition to a climate neutral way of life across the EU as well as fosters sustainable entrepreneurship.
The active participation of all parts of society is essential
The EESC has continuously stressed that civil society and citizens are crucial partners in the fight against climate change, because active participation of "all parts of society" is a necessary condition for climate policy to be successful within the EU. Direct dialogues with citizens to raise awareness of the importance of a transition to more sustainable societies and healthier local communities are needed. The EESC has called for the European Climate Pact Stakeholder Platform that would be focused on empowering people to change systems – through exploration, experimentation and demonstration.
A shift from top-down decision-making
One way of enhancing climate ambition is to create enabling environments for more action from non-state actors. This requires a shift from mere consultation and top-down decision-making to co-design, co-creation and empowerment. Individuals, organisations and enterprises with the most to gain from and contribute to transformational change need to be offered genuine opportunities to participate in decision-making if they are to commit time and energy to the process. Moreover, the Paris Agreement obliges governments to implement a just transition for workers and to promote decent work in their policies to combat climate change. The participation of the social partners in developing and implementing low carbon strategies is a necessary precondition to making the decarbonisation socially just, as well as to reaching climate targets.
The European Climate Pact must focus on empowering people to change systems
On 9th December 2020, the European Commission published its proposal on the European Climate Pact - to bring together different stakeholders and civil society with the aim to commit them to action and more sustainable behaviour. Many EESC proposals are reflected in the Communication. The Climate Pact, based on genuine participation and ownership by local climate actors can be a vehicle for delivering on EU's climate ambition, but it must focus on empowering people to change systems – through exploration, experimentation and demonstration.
Going beyond commitments and pledges
We need to go beyond commitments and pledges and encourage a broad participation that in turn can mobilise further climate action. Existing national, regional and municipal level examples of citizens' assemblies, citizens' dialogues demonstrate clearly the capacity and desire of citizens to take responsibility for climate crisis solutions. Recognition, and credible communication of existing actions may be strong stimuli to take climate action. Funding and other resources, specialist support and the power to help shape decisions that impact on their work will enable the wider application of proven approaches.
Marking the Paris Agreement 5th anniversary – Our Race to Zero event
To mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, on 4th December the EESC and the German Development Institute/Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) organised under the patronage of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU an online event that brought together the EU Institutions, the COP26 UK Presidency, the High-Level Climate Champions and key climate actors to discuss opportunities to strengthen engagement and climate action. The proceeding of this event will be available soon on this page.