Speech at the Race to Zero event

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Madam Vice-President,

Distinguished guests,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you this morning to the online conference the EESC is hosting together with the German Development Institute under the patronage of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU. This conference marks the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement.

The context, in which we celebrate this anniversary, is extremely difficult. COVID-19 crisis has caused the worst recession since World War II, and is deepening inequalities, and hitting the most vulnerable hardest. All across Europe enterprises, workers and societies as a whole need support to survive, recover and rebuild. This crisis also demands green recovery plans to build back better.

As the EESC President, I put the vision for a stronger and more resilient post-COVID Europe at the heart of my programme, which is based on three priorities: the EU that prospers economically is socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

Sustainable development should become a mindset and the basis of a prosperous European economy, leaving nobody behind.

Climate neutrality is the central objective of the European Green Deal, which in turn is EU's plan to make the economy truly sustainable and ensure that the transition is just and inclusive for all.

For the EESC, climate action and the economic recovery and reconstruction from the coronavirus crisis should go hand in hand. The recovery and reconstruction measures need to be in line with the climate objective, and climate action needs to be taken in a way that minimises costs and generates economic benefits.

EU leaders will next week aim to agree a new EU emissions reduction target for 2030.  This will allow the EU to submit its updated nationally determined contribution to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change before the end of 2020, as required by the Paris Agreement.

In the current economic downturn, it is essential to provide the best possible support to achieve recovery while enabling innovation and investment in climate and environmental protection.

We need to be aware, ambitious climate-protection measures pose a challenge to the businesses concerned. Businesses have to be seen as part of the solution when it comes to making efforts to green the economy. They must be encouraged to take an active part in shaping the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy. For that, businesses need realistic targets, planning, security and flexibility when new measures to mitigate climate change are adopted.

Above that, in our recent opinions on the European Climate Law and the European Climate Pact, we called on the EU Institutions and the EU Member States to actively engage all civil society actors to participate and put to implement their proposals for concrete climate policy and climate action.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has demonstrated that simple adjustments of our lifestyles and ways of thinking will not be enough. Fundamental changes in production methods, affecting businesses, workers and the organisation of work, were already taking place before the pandemic and may be accelerated as a result.

However, the global response to the climate crisis thus far has been insufficient. While Europe Europe is on a credible downward emission pathway, we are not on track to meet the objective of the Paris Agreement.  in 2019, global CO2 emissions increased by 0.9% compared to 2018.

The largest percentage increase in emissions between 2018 and 2019 was found in China (+3.4%) and India (+1.6%), Japan reduced its fossil CO2 emissions by 2.1%, the United States by 2.6% and Russia by 0.8%.

Fossil CO2 emissions of the EU Member States and the UK fell by nearly 3.8% in 2019.

The EU and UK's fossil CO2 emissions were 25 % below the level in 1990. This reduction is the largest among the top emitting economic areas around the world.

For me, this clearly shows, European ambition pays off but need to be embedded in global action.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report explicitly refers to the need for "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society". As civil society we must warn that a narrow focus on CO2 reduction is counter-productive at the grassroots level, because it limits the engagement and the thinking, hence limiting the changes that are imagined and implemented. Local initiatives can bring many different sustainability benefits, even without being specifically designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

What is needed now is a fundamental transformation of economic, social and financial systems that could trigger faster decarbonisation and strengthen climate resilience.

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.

We expect the European Commission to shortly publish its proposal on the European Climate Pact - a new non-legislative initiative to bring together different stakeholders and civil society with the aim to commit them to action and more sustainable behaviour. In this context, let me reiterate the EESC's position that the Climate Pact provides an opportunity for the institutions to work closely together for an enabling framework for civil society and citizens' involvement. Involvement that builds on, but goes beyond the existing consultation processes.

The Climate Pact should therefore be focused on empowering people to change systems – through exploration, experimentation and demonstration. Education and training programmes covering the whole spectrum of civil society, and other non-state actors, are needed.

In addition, the success of the Climate Pact will be partly defined by the ability of entrepreneurs and companies to attract grant funding from public and private sources.

The EESC has proposed to set up a European Climate Pact Stakeholder Platform based on the principles of inclusiveness, transparency and genuine participation and ownership by local climate actors.

I very much hope that today's discussions can take us closer to proposing a model for engaging civil society organisations and citizens at the EU and international level. The EESC is ready to be a partner to the EU Institutions on the next steps towards the European Climate Pact, but also to the UK COP26 Presidency and the High-Level Climate Champions in ensuring that climate ambition is raised at international level so that we can guarantee a sustainable future for us and our children in Europe and beyond.

As climate change does not stop at national or continental borders we need global ambition and action. That's why COP is so crucial. 

Europe can and should give a leading example of a green transition ensuring economic prosperity, social inclusiveness and environmental sustainability.

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Speech at Race to Zero