Spain Sounds the Alarm

Iberian country declares a climate emergency, and the EU has a new Green Deal. Will it be enough?

January 27, 2020

3:45 pm

The last time the world gathered with a focus on climate, the location was Spain. That was one month ago, at COP25, the could-have-been historic 2019 edition of the UN’s annual Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Alas, world leaders essentially punted, kicking the non-recyclable can down the road to 2020’s COP26 in Glasgow toward the end of this year.

Now this past week, a new government in the Iberian country has given the planet some uplifting news: Spain has declared a climate emergency. The country’s new left-of-center government has set some ambitious goals:

  • by 2040, have 95% of its electricity powered by renewable sources
  • by 2050, bring net carbon emissions down to zero

These goals are aligned with those of the EU itself, as laid out in another bit of uplifting news: that the European Union (EU) has committed 1 trillion Euros ($1.1 trillion USD) to a Green Deal, which will revamp the EU economy to be more climate-friendly. As the AP reported, this Green Deal — sponsored by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU’s political arm, the European Commission — “is aimed at making Europe the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.”

And just a few days prior to Spain’s national announcement, its second-biggest city, Barcelona, also rang the “climate emergency” alarm, echoing the words of Greta Thunberg, that “This is not a drill.” Barcelona has vowed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.

The Barcelona announcement was a follow up to a pledge the city made last summer, that it would declare a climate emergency at the start of the new year. First, it said, it would do a deep dive and come up with concrete solutions, in consultation with experts and its citizens. This announcement is a pledge fulfilled.

Now Spain and Barcelona join about two dozen other countries in declaring a climate emergency. And the EU — as a body — is among the world’s largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions: in a ranking of countries CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement manufacturing, and gas flaring (source: the U.S. EPA), the EU was responsible for 9% of such emissions.

But as encouraging as that news is, the needle won’t be significantly moved unless we get buy in from the world’s other largest polluters, such as China (30%), the U.S. (15%), India (7%), the Russian Federation (5%), and Japan (4%).

And another global gathering in Europe — last week’s annual World Economic Forum’s 50th annual meeting, in Davos, Switzerland — had mixed results on climate. On the one hand, there was widespread support of world’s largest investment manager BlackRock’s decision to drop $500 million USD investments in thermal coal. And, for the first time, WEF gave an official seat at the table to teen activists, including Thunberg. But, as Thunberg lamented, the elite of the public and private sectors had “completely ignored” her and her young activist cohorts’ pleas to act on the climate crisis.

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