Thierry Libaert is a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) from the Diversity Europe Group representing the Nicolas Hulot Foundation for Nature and Mankind NGO, and research associate at the Catholic University of Leuven. He has recently received the Best Environmental Book Award 2021.
What motivates you to be an active and committed member of the EESC and the NAT Section? And how do you connect with your work in your country?
I have been a member of our Committee since 2010, I am in my third term of office and since the beginning I have been a member of the NAT section. For me, the choice of the NAT section was obvious as I represent environmental interests. Apart from that, I am convinced that the topic of climate change is the most important issue, as it affects all others, the NAT section is the most appropriate. I am also a member of INT, CoCom and co-chair with Bernardo Hernández Bataller the Consumers and Environment Category.
You have recently received the Best Environmental Book Award 2021 in France for your book "Des vents porteurs : comment mobiliser (enfin) pour la planète".* If you were to summarise it, what would be the two key steps that the EU needs to take to achieve real climate and environmental progress?
The first measure would be to break down the silos of the various departments within the European Commission. Climate and environmental issues are, by their very nature, completely transverse in all directorates and concern economic, budgetary, social, consumer and public health issues. However, the Commission works very much on specialised activities and it is often difficult to move files forward because the prerogatives are not sufficiently shared.
The second measure would concern communication on these subjects. I sometimes have the impression that the European Union does not yet master a truly inspiring rhetoric to combat climate change. Information is often very technical, we are encouraged to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, combat CO2, achieve carbon neutrality, it is of course important, but I am not sure that this is conducive to real mobilisation.
However, Europe has a pretty fantastic playing card to play with. The first updates we had from the Conference on the Future of Europe, as we held citizens’ consultations in 2018, showed that the environmental issue could be a strong cement for consolidating Europe.
You have also recently participated in the European Climate Pact Action Day and you are committed to raising awareness of how to communicate effectively on climate change. What role do you think the EESC could play in this context?
I think there are two major mistakes when it comes to environmental awareness. First, that of believing that citizens are truly aware because they say so, then that of thinking that it is enough to inform people about the major environmental issues for people to become aware. This is a major error and in many respects there is no direct link between sending information and changing behaviour. Our Committee has an important role to play in raising awareness because we represent a large number of interests, because we are constantly seeking consensus rather than seeking to impose a point of view, because we favour debate and confrontation of ideas, because we are permanently in the field, we really have an irreplaceable role on the subject.
*English literal translation: Carrying winds. How to mobilise (finally) for the planet.