Climate change is everyone’s business!

Youth strikes, yellow vests and other social movements


Publication date

March 12, 2019

Climate change is not news…we have known since the ‘80s and our governments have been discussing it for a very long time. But despite the Kyoto protocol in the ’90s and the Paris Agreement in 2015, countries have been not doing enough to protect our health and the planet’s.

As pointed out by the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC) in a recent study – you can read a short analysis by Energy Cities – this lack of action is driving new grassroots and local initiatives trying to influence climate and energy policies. People no longer see climate change as something far away from their life and have decided it is time to take the matter into their own hands. Climate change makes the news every day, and this is not likely to change anytime soon. In this article you will find some examples of this trend.

Citizens bring their governments to court

Climate litigation cases against governments is quite a recent phenomenon. The first successful case of this sort was only in 2015, when the Urgenda Foundation sued the Dutch government on behalf of 886 citizens. The court in The Hague mandated the government to cut emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020. Fun fact: The Dutch government appealed in the same year, but the court ruled in favour of Urgenda again in October 2018!

This case made history and transformed climate change policy in The Netherlands and abroad. A couple of weeks ago, in Italy, 161 citizens won before the European Court of Human Rights. They complained about the government’s inaction to protect them and the environment from the toxic emissions of a steel plant in Taranto. In January, an environmental group in Bulgaria sued the national government after it granted the biggest coal plant in the region an indefinite permission to pollute.

Youth strikes for climate

In many European countries, thousands of young people have been taking the streets every week. Inspired by the Swedish student Greta Thunberg, they demand effective action to fight climate change in their cities. Politicians have reacted in many different and sometime surprising ways. The Flemish minister for the environment questioned the reason behind the marches, implying that environmental organisations were running a political operation against her party. She first retracted the statement and later resigned from her post. Others expressed their cautious support, like the Belgian prime minister, or met with students’ representatives like the members of the German Coal Commission or the Mayor of Liege (Belgium). A couple of days ago, Greta Thunberg came to Brussels to meet with the EU Commission President Juncker. She suggested the EU doubles its ambition for emission reduction, going from 40 to 80 per cent less CO2 emission by 2030. Around 8 000 Belgian students marched with her later on the same day.

Yellow vests and social justice

Just because the French Yellow vest movement called for a suspension of fuel taxes, this does not make it anti-climate action. On the contrary, the riots painfully reminded us that climate and energy actions cannot move forward without ensuring benefits for all! 
That’s why Energy Cities calls for a shared energy transition.

By the end of 2019, governments in the EU will have to finalise their 2030 National Energy and Climate Plans. I hope they will be able to effectively include citizens and local stakeholders in this exercise. That would be an effective way to stop the temperature from rising…literally and figuratively!

©photo: Sapann Design shutterstock