Sustainability Blog

Time’s Up on EU Climate Action as Floods Hit Germany

By Apurva Gosalia - Jul 16, 2021

Yesterday, more than 70 people died and 1,300 are assumed missing in western Germany and Belgium after heavy rainfall flooded the border region. The states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate were the worst affected, with neighboring Luxembourg and the Netherlands also badly hit.

At least six houses collapsed and up to 25 more are in danger of caving in, amid rainfall of 148 litres per square metre in 48 hours – the usual amount is 80 litres for the whole month.

Helicopters from several states are saving people stranded on rooftops. The German military deployed 850 soldiers to deal with the flooding and assist with rescue operations. Weather forecasts predict more rain in the coming days, raising fears that the death toll and the destruction of property will be greater.

Having been equally affected some days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first foreign head of state to share his condolences with those affected by the flooding in a telegram to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (The Russian region of Krasnodar Krai declared a state of emergency earlier this month due to torrential rain, in which several people were killed around the major Black Sea city of Sochi).

North Rhine-Westphalia State Premier Armin Laschet, the Christian Democrats’ candidate to succeed Merkel after September’s general election, was quick to blame the extreme weather on global warming.

“We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate protection measures, on European, federal and global levels, because climate change isn’t confined to one state,” he said to the press.

Leaving aside for now a debate about the exact causes of climate change, is it right to think it is directly responsible for this specific storm?  To blame such an event entirely on climate change is, in my opinion, daring. Those who interpret the storm as a direct consequence of climate change should recognize many other factors too, and low-pressure areas as a major weather situation are basically nothing unusual. Besides, I don’t know if it’s such a good idea to try to play politics with the suffering of those being currently heavily affected.

However, those who fail to recognize climate change as a trigger are equally lacking in scientific rigor and ignore the large body of data that suggests climate change tends to make the extreme weather of the past two days more likely.

There is no longer any doubt in the scientific community that average temperatures are rising, but that doesn’t mean that every extreme weather event is a direct result of global warming. We do know that the more greenhouse gases there are in the atmosphere, the warmer the Earth becomes. And the warmer the planet, the more likely extreme weather events will occur. We also know that we are emitting evermore greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. So it stands to reason that extreme weather events and associated disasters will become more frequent.

Two other events this week connect directly to what is happening right now.

On Wednesday, China announced a launching ceremony for its national carbon emission trading system (ETS) this month, according to Reuters. The ETS will involve some 2,225 power plants across China, responsible for about 4 billion tonnes of carbon emissions each year. The country will become the world’s largest carbon trading market by volume, doubling current amounts.

The same day, the European Commission announced its “Fit for 55” plan. Although it sounds like an exercise program for the middle-aged, the plan aims to set the EU on course to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, relative to 1990 levels, aligning EU policy with the ambitious political mandates of the EU Green Deal and the EU Climate Law.

“Fit for 55 will align our laws with our ambition. We will strengthen the EU ETS, update the Energy Taxation Directive, and propose new CO2 standards for cars, new energy efficiency standards for buildings, new targets for renewables, and new ways of supporting clean fuels and infrastructure for clean transport,” said EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans at the Eurelectric Power Summit in May.

It’s the first time that a major economy is radically overhauling its climate rules, and the plan is being watched around the world. With the presentation of Fit for 55 having been made now, the European Parliament and the 27 member states will start negotiations on the proposals in September this year, when the commission’s package will be unveiled.

“The greatest optimists hope that we will be ready by the end of 2022,” says an EU diplomat, while in reality observers in Brussels expect that it may take several years more.

Several years? Really? I’m still watching the news, seeing the pictures of the chaos and devastation in Germany right now, and I realize again the one thing that we don’t have in this climate crisis is TIME.

Stay safe – STAY SuSTAYnable!

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