Open letter from leading business groups, investors, and trade unions signals support for wave of 'citizen mobilisations' and urges EU to formalise net zero emission strategy
The school stikers have found some powerful new allies. A group of business bodies, investor alliances, trade unions, regional authorities, and civil society groups have today written to EU leaders urging them to respond to the growing wave of public climate protests by formally endorsing a target to build a net zero emission economy by 2050 at the latest.
The open letter is backed by a raft of green economy groups, which together represent a host of Blue Chip firms and multibillion Euro investors.
Signatories include the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group, the Aldersgate Group, CDP, the B Team, We Mean Business, IIGCC, C40 Cities, WBCSD, Ceres, The Climate Group, and the European Trade Union Confederation.
"Unprecedented citizen mobilisations are taking place across EU member states calling for increased action against climate change, showing that climate action is an integral element of the future of Europe and that increasing the EU's commitments under the Paris Agreement is an urgent necessity," the letter states, in reference to Friday's latest wave of School Strikes which are estimated to have seen over a million children worldwide miss lessons to protests against the global failure to accelerate decarbonisation efforts.
Addressed to all heads of EU member states, Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, and Energy and Climate Change Commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, the letter calls for European leaders to take immediate steps to formalise their support for a net zero emission target for the bloc that would be reached by 2050 at the latest.
The European Council of heads of state is meeting this week ahead of a special EU Summit in Sibiu in May 2019, which is set to discuss the bloc's long term decarbonisation plans.
The European Commission has proposed a target to deliver "climate neutrality" by 2050 at the latest - a goal that has been backed by the European Parliament - and has commissioned an analysis to explore how bolder long tern decarbonisation targets could be met.
However, a number of EU member states are understood to be wary of the proposed new targets and previously resisted a push from the Parliament for more ambitious interim targets for 2030.
Today's letter calls on the European Council to respond to the latest wave of protests by backing the proposals for a clear net zero emission strategy, signaling that a large and growing band of businesses would support such a target. It also argues there are compelling economic reasons for embracing a more ambitious decarbonisation trajectory.
"We welcome the Commission's proposal to reach climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest," the letter states. "As indicated by the Commission's analysis, based on existing technologies and solutions, the just transition towards a net-zero emissions economy is feasible and provides numerous economic, environmental and social co-benefits. These include health for citizens, additional jobs, increased competitiveness and energy security, and more sustainable economic development."
Specifically the group wants to see European leaders endorse the objective of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest as part of the upcoming future of Europe debate, at the special EU Summit in Sibiu in May 2019. It also calls for the EU to raise the current emissions target for 2030 so it is in line with the new net zero emissions.
The letter argues the EU should aim to "announce its readiness" to strengthen its emissions targets at the upcoming UN Climate Change Summit in New York in September 2019 where secretary general António Guterres will call on governments to come forward with bolder climate action plans ahead of the Paris Agreement coming into full force next year.
Campaigners hope a public commitment from the EU to deliver more ambitious emissions targets could help unlock stronger pledges from other economic superpowers, such as China and India.
Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe, which helped co-ordinate the letter, said that businesses, investors, trade unions, and regional leaders had today come together to "call for a future safe from the climate breakdown, and an economy that works for people and the planet, with green jobs, clean air, and prosperous communities".
"We expect EU leaders to signal their support for higher EU climate targets," he added. "They need to work towards taking a decision on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero as soon as possible, and massively scaling up emission cuts by 2030."
Eliot Whittington, director at The Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group, said stronger long term emissions targets at an EU level would help unlock increased low carbon investment across the economy and boost the bloc's international competitiveness.
"If the EU is to maintain its reputation for climate leadership and status as a pioneer for policy innovation it must set out its ambition to achieve net zero emissions before 2050 and update its 2030 climate targets accordingly," he said. "European Member States should seize the opportunity to endorse a vision for a climate neutral Europe. Bold leadership from government will trigger investment and innovation from business. Now is the time to build on this unprecedented support from business, civil society, local and regional government, and rise to the challenge by leading the world towards a sustainable and prosperous future."
Anna Lisa Boni, secretary general of the EUROCITIES group, also urged the EU and national governments to work more closely with the many cities that are already pursuing deep decarbonisation strategies and respond to the growing wave of school strike protests.
"Cities are making ambitious plans at the local level in tandem with citizens, businesses and civil society to limit global warming to below 1.5C degrees," she said. "We demand that national and European leaders show a higher level of ambition too. Now even young people are marching to tell you this same message - what else do you need? Give cities a seat at the table, and together let's ensure an EU long term strategy that clears a pathway towards a climate neutral Europe by 2050."
Political leaders across Europe have diverged in their initial response to the school strikers, with some patronising the protestors and accusing them of "truancy", some arguing that governments are responding to the climate threat, and others applauding and endorsing their calls for bolder action. But with some of Europe's most powerful and influential businesses now backing the protestors and putting forward specific policy asks it remains to be seen how long any government can ignore growing demands for credible net zero emission policies.
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