Back in September 2014, many were skeptical about the People’s Climate March in New York. Could a mass demonstration really change the tone in climate policy when it has been stuck in never ending discussions for the last twenty-five years? The 311 000 protesters from over the whole world believed they could indeed.

We don’t know if the march had an hand in it, but we do know a lot started to change in the fall of 2014. The climate debate was steadily gaining momentum and impact. We saw a historical pledge of the US and China to reduce their emissions. For the first time we got an agreement with all countries present on the COP in Lima. The EU announced its new emissions reduction goals for 2030.

The new year had not long taken its start before we saw another big event in the climate debate. On fossil fuel divestment day, people all over the world organised parades and flashmobs to ask banks, universities and public institutions to divest from fossil fuels.

Obama during his visit at the Energy Department, where he announced his plans to cut government emissions (photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Obama during his visit at the Energy Department, where he announced his plans to cut government emissions (photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Not much later, Barack Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline. The project would have brought millions of barrels of dirty tar sands oil all the way from Alberta (Canada) to Texas. Years of activism of a coalition between indigenous people in Canada and ranchers in the US finally showed off. It seems that Obama is warming up and finally putting all his energy in his promises regarding climate change.

And it doesn’t stop there. Last week, the president of the United States signed an executive order to reduce U.S. Government greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2025. Although the government accounts for only 0.7% of the US emissions, it is still the single largest emitter in the States.

And it is not so much about the numbers than it is about the move. To say it with Obama’s own words: it is leading by example. And it seems to work. Big firms like HP, IBM and General Electric all committed to cut their emissions drastically over the next decade.

In France, a new law was approved by parliament which decrees new rooftops of commercial buildings should be covered in plants or solar panels. Rooftops plants have many benefits. They are an extra layer of insulation during winter and summer, retain rain water for some time reducing the risk of flooding during periods of heavy rains. The natural rooftops also favors biodiversity in urban areas.

Yet, not everything is going as one would want. Despite the efforts of Barack Obama to let the US play a prominent role in the action on climate change, some republican states are going the opposite direction.

In California, the term “Climate Change” was banned from all official communication lately. How ironical for a state so vulnerable for its effects. As if banning the word is going to stop the planet from warming up. Bart Bibles, a state land management plan coordinator, was even suspended from work after he wrote a report and didn’t want to remove the words climate change. He was told to get a mental check-up, as if he is the one with some serious problems.

The 28  heads of state approved the proposal for a European Energy Union last Thursday (photo: European Union)

The 28 heads of state approved the proposal for a European Energy Union last Thursday (photo: European Union)

It can get even worse. The European Union is playing a leading role in progressive climate policies, yet last week the 28 heads of state accepted the the Energy Union proposal of the European Comission. This energy union is a logical next step in Europe with its free transport of people and goods. The Energy Union is intended to make the European electricity network more robust and less dependent of Russian gas. Most Europeans can only applaud this motives.

But the  EU miss an enormous opportunity in the way they now plan to fulfill this objectives. This is the ideal moment to fully prioritize renewables and efficiency targets. But the energy union seems to put gas on the first place. As the tension with Russia grows, the European Comission looks for European gas resources, instead of turning away from more gas instead. It is true: the burning of natural gas is up to 50% cleaner than conventional oil, but the production can be much more devastating. The whole plan doesn’t seem to match the spirit of the European goals on higher energy efficiency and renewable energy generation. As Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth Europe said:

It’s baffling to see governments putting gas in prime position when these plans were born out of a desire to end gas import dependency. Heads of state seem to have fallen for gas industry propaganda. Saying gas is a clean fossil fuel is like saying filter cigarettes will prevent lung cancer.

With nine months left until the Climate Summit in Paris, politicians seem to start feeling the hot breath of the climate movement. But they way they’re reacting to it is not always what wise leaders should do -we’ve still a long way to go.

The Washington Post
Friends of the Earth