Climate: imagine Europe in 2040

The European Commission has just unveiled its goal to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040 compared to 1990 levels. The long-awaited, very much spoiled target followed the ambitious recommendations from the EU Scientific Advisory Board. Our look at European media coverage on environment and climate over a long, blue January, with Display Europe.

Published on 8 February 2024 at 10:34

Reactions from civil society to the presentation of the EU vision for 2040 were strong. NGOs insisted that, compared to an initial draft circulated over the past couple of weeks, the final text has a particularly light hand when it comes to agriculture. Michel De Muelenaere wrote for Le Soir that discussions on this topic under the Belgian presidency of the Council promise to be difficult. It should be obvious, because we are now witnessing “a historically high acceleration of climate change in 2023, marked by warming reaching for the first time 1.48°C above the pre-industrial level”, but it’s not.

The new target, as well as the whole aspect of Europe in 16 years, requires a further stretch of imagination.

Jon Henley, Sam Jones and Lorenzo Tondo spotted the first news from Strasbourg’s plenary for The Guardian: the EU scrapped its plans to limit the use of chemical pesticides by the end of the decade. The original proposal – part of the bloc’s green transition – “has become a symbol of polarisation”, said the Commission’s president Ursula von der Leyen in her intervention. The main points of the Commission's proposal are detailed by Ajit Niranjan in another Guardian article.

At the time of writing, the horns of over a thousand tractors resound in the streets of Brussels. It is the French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, and German farmers who stormed the neighbourhood of the European institutions for the third consecutive day, while the summit of European Union leaders met to discuss the budget available for the coming years. To read more about the anger of people working in the agricultural sector, see Francesca Barca’s press review.

But also, pay attention because the devil is in the details, and not all of them are marching against EU policies as a whole. Organic farmers recognise that the real problem is climate change, says Lorène Lavocat in Reporterre. At the Millésime bio fair in Montpellier, despite the outward calm of the winemakers, climate change provokes deep concern, highlighting its devastating impact on Occitan viticulture. Extended droughts, floods, and diseases threaten yields, jeopardising the financial survival of many farmers. In response to the climate emergency, solutions range from irrigation, viewed sceptically by organic farmers, to adapting practices and diversifying crops.

Meanwhile, Spanish region of Catalonia has been suffering a drought emergency. After dropping 16% of water reserves, several territories in the Internal Basins are in distress. Maldito Clima suggests measures such as limiting water consumption to 200 litres per person per day, prohibiting private and recreational uses and only performing survival irrigation on crops such as fruit trees and olive trees. If the situation does not improve, there are two more restrictive phases for those regions that are supplied only by reservoirs.

While talking about climate change, it’s impossible not to mention this investigation on Follow the money by Matthew Green, Merel de Buck, and Birte Schohaus. They found internal documents from the Shell energy company, dating back to the 1970s, revealing the company's early awareness of the potential harm its fossil fuel products could cause to the climate. The files were uncovered through extensive research by Vatan Hüzeir, a climate activist and doctoral candidate, and have been made public also on DeSmog. The revelations could be significant for ongoing and future legal cases against Shell, while also detailing the firm’s internal discussions about the necessity of precautionary measures to address climate change.

Stéphane Horel on Le Monde highlighted another awful truth: so-called ‘eternal pollutants' (PFAS) have literally entered our bodies. NGOs measured the presence of PFAS in the blood of a dozen European political leaders. Among them, the former vice-president of the EU Commission, Frans Timmermans, who calls for a ban on these substances, tested positive.

Another investigation, by Adam Haertle for the Polish news outlet Zaufana Trzecia Strona (translated in English by BadCyber), shows that a Polish train, the Impuls 45WE, manufactured by Newag, faced mysterious breakdowns after maintenance by an independent company, Serwis Pojazdów Szynowych (SPS), which won the maintenance tender against Newag. When the trains failed to start after being serviced, Dragon Sector, a team of hackers, were hired to investigate. Their analysis uncovered software programmed to disable trains if they were serviced outside Newag's facilities, among other sabotage mechanisms. This discovery suggested deliberate malfunctions to undermine competitors, reminiscent of the Dieselgate scandal but involving trains. The findings highlighted potential unethical practices within the rail manufacturing industry. Railway expert Jon Worth has also written extensively on the subject. 

On Scena9, Oana Filip interviewed Liviu Chelcea (translated in English by Eurozine), anthropologist and professor at the University of Bucharest, on how we take water for granted. Chelsea explained that water, which is central to social dynamics, reflects our consumption habits in the face of environmental challenges. Western societies perceive drinking water as abundant and individualised. Chelsea's study on water infrastructure analyses Romania's bottled water culture, tracing its origins to historical health beliefs and aristocratic tourism. The resurgence of plastic, driven by health trends, contrasts with Romania's abundant tap water. In the midst of climate change, water scarcity and quality issues loom, necessitating changes in consumption habits and public discourse. Water grabbing and conflicts, historically prevalent, are intensifying with climate change, exacerbating challenges globally.

On a different note

A study by think-tank European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) predicts that a significant shift to the right in the new EU parliament would create an “anti-climate” coalition. If this were to dominate the number of seats, it would significantly undermine the macro project of the European Green Deal precisely in its most politically difficult phase, the local implementation, "which will have an impact on the climate sovereignty of the EU". Still, very much is up to national politics. Greta Hirschberg looked at the media's role in shaping public discourse in Sweden and Denmark as contrasting examples of environmental communication, for Voxeurop.

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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