Everyone has a part to play in the fight against climate change | Cyrus Engerer

Fresh from the COP26 conference in Glasgow, MEP CYRUS ENGERER admits to being ‘disappointed’ by the final outcome. Nonetheless, he is confident that the agreement marks an important step in the global fight against climate change

Cyrus Engerer
Cyrus Engerer

You have just returned from the COP26 Climate Change summit in Glasgow, where you participated as a member of thew European parliamentary delegation. First of all: what can you tell us about the experience?

On the whole, I would say the experience was very positive; and also quite a rare opportunity, in the sense that it is not easy to become one of only a small number of EP delegates to attend COP26. The delegation itself wasn’t very large to begin with; there was a lot of competition among MEPs, and I was honoured to be chosen among its members.

It was also an incredible experience, just to participate in one of the biggest international conferences in the world, on any given topic… but even more so, when the topic is something as important as Climate Change: an issue which I have been separately working on, also in the EP Committee on Environment and Public Health.

Naturally, we went to Glasgow with very high expectations: because from the outset, the European Union has always been at the very forefront of the fight against Climate Change. […] So our ambition, as a global leader in this challenge, was very great. I would say it reflected the aspirations of so many citizens - especially the young - across the entire European Union.

And yet, considering that we there to represent the views and ambitions of European youths… I was obviously a little disappointed by the final outcome. All the same, however: despite that initial disappointment, the reality is that the final outcome was actually more than was originally expected, from any eventual agreement. From that angle, one could say it was a positive outcome; in the sense that it delivered a little more than we had anticipated.

But from my own perspective, and that of the European Social Democrats – and even the EU as a whole – we all wanted there to be more input, more agreement, and a more strongly-worded commitment: specifically, on the issue of coal. There is no doubt that the use of coal must be phased out, eventually; but until we can reach an agreement of that nature, there has to be convergence between the richer countries – the ones which already have strong economies, as a result of having used coal for so many years – and developing countries, where there is still a lot of poverty.

Naturally, one can understand the argument that these developing countries need more assistance, if they are to emerge from the situation they are currently in.  And it is only reasonable to expect that the EU – and other wealthy nations, such as the USA, Canada, and others – should be more forthcoming, in terms of what concrete action can be taken, in the coming years, to help those countries.

Speaking of which: were there any specific proposals, put forward by the EP delegation, in this regard?

As the European parliamentary delegation, our primary goal was to ensure that we reach our target of Carbon Neutrality as soon as possible. As everyone knows, the official target date – for both Malta, and the EU as a whole – is 2050; and we are pleased to note that many individual EU member states have also set earlier target dates of their own. This is something that is strongly encouraged at EP level.

As for myself, as a member of the delegation I also pushed very hard for [an agreement on] ‘Finance for adaptation, loss and damage’. First of all, because we come from a very small island, in the middle of the one sea that is warming up faster than any other on the planet. In fact, the temperature of the Mediterranean has already risen by 1.1 degrees: which is a lot higher than the corresponding temperature increase, in any sea or ocean anywhere else in the world.

Apart from that, we also know that the Mediterranean region is currently experiencing the effects of climate change, at a rate which is 20% higher than anywhere else. So as the only MEP coming from a small island, I felt I had to emphasise the importance of addressing the financial cost of adapting to climate change, and to cover any loss or damage, as quickly as possible.

This also emerges from the contributions of other delegations, from other parts of the world where these effects are already being felt. During the conference, we heard how other island nations such as Tuvalu, the Maldives, Antigua and Barbados, and many more, are already witnessing their own territories ‘shrinking’, as a result of rising sea-levels. When I spoke to prime minister of Bangladesh, for instance, he told me that his country has among the highest number of people who have been internally displaced by climate change, because large parts of the coast are already below sea-level.

For this reason, I wanted to ensure that there would be agreement on a clear, confirmed financial package, regarding exactly how much assistance each country could expect to cover any loss and damage. On other level, however, I also wanted to be clear on what we mean, exactly, by ‘loss and damage’. In Malta’s case, for instance, we cannot only look at the ‘loss and damage’ that occurs on land; the rate at which the Mediterranean is warming is also having incalculable effects on our marine biodiversity.

This is something that requires immediate attention and action; and I, for one, expect the international community to agree on a specific financial package - in the shortest possible timeframe - to help those countries with all aspects of adaptation to Climate Change: not just the effects we can ‘see’, so to speak, with our own eyes… but also, the invisible damage to our ecosystems, and our marine biodiversity.

Already, we are witnessing a radical change that may result in catastrophic loss, unless we take immediate action to try and reverse the damage that is being done. That, I would say, is the one message I tried to push in all the meetings I attended.

Now that the conference itself is over, and an agreement has been reached… what is the next step for the European Parliament?

Certainly, the European Parliament will not rest on the laurels of the final agreement. We need to go beyond that. In fact, we now have the ‘Fit for 55’ package, proposed on behalf of the European Commission by [vice-president] Frans Timmermans, which sets additional targets – over and above the COP26 agreement - that the EU needs to meet by 2030.

I am one of the rapporteurs on a number of legislative targets we now have before us; as such, I will be participating in discussions and negotiations regarding the Market Stability Reserve of the Emissions Trading Scheme. It is admittedly a little complex and technical; but what it means in practice is that we will be working towards a 55% reduction in [EU] carbon emissions by 2030; and on top of that, there is also a scheme whereby each individual member state must make its own contribution towards reducing the EU’s total emissions by that percentage, within that timeframe.   

But that’s just the first step. Apart from that, I believe that the European Union has to retain its global role as an ambassador of Climate Change. And to achieve this, we must be the ones to take action; to do more than other countries.

There is no point in encouraging others to do things that we are reluctant to do ourselves. So we must continue to be world leaders in the fight against Climate Change; but we must also encourage other players on the global stage to take the necessary action. Because at the end of the day, this is not a battle that the EU can fight on its own. Climate Change affects the entire planet equally; and unless all countries play their part, no amount of action taken by the EU can ever be enough.

One of the challenges already faced by the EU is immigration. In the near future, however, we may face immigration of a different variety: including internal displacement, as people (including EU citizens) are forced to move because of environmental catastrophes related to climate change. How prepared is the EU to face this challenge, in terms of the resources available to individual member states?

As I already mentioned before, we are already witnessing cases of internal displacement, because of climate change, in countries such as Bangladesh. Meanwhile, as you say, Europe is already experiencing immigration on account of political and economic conditions; but yes, I do believe that, in years to come, we will also start experiencing immigration caused by climate change.

I would even go as far as to say that – unless some form of drastic action is taken – we in Malta, too, will start facing similar problems in our own country. Already, we are facing the prospect of desertification, and future water scarcity. But if the rate of climate change continues unabated, we may even end up with problems related to the security of our national food supply. Because at the end of the day, climate change affects all those issues.

Unfortunately, however, the reality is that the European Union is not even prepared to cope with the sort of immigration we have today; let alone, the challenges we may soon be facing. In truth, we have to work a lot harder towards that goal: not just in the European Parliament – because to be honest, there is already widespread agreement on this issue, at EP level. There are clear majorities, which spell out the direction that needs to be taken with regard to immigration.

Now, however, it is up to the individual member states, to assume their own responsibilities within the European Council: so that the EU’s Asylum and Immigration Pact comes into force at last… as opposed to the situation today, whereby individual countries such as Hungary, Poland and Slovakia keep hijacking the entire discussion, and preventing decisions from moving forward, simply because they decide to go against the EU’s core principles of solidarity.

It cannot be that countries such as Malta, Italy, Greece and Spain – basically, the border states on the periphery on the EU - continue to bear the full brunt of immigration, alone and unaided. This responsibility has to be shared among everybody equally.

But it is also up to us, as a country, to work harder to change the trajectory the world has taken, with regard to Climate Change; because the reality is that our present immigration problems are only going to get worse, if we do nothing at all.

This raises the question of what can, in fact, be done – if anything at all – to avert this catastrophe…

There is a lot that can still be done; and it is not just governments that need to take action, either.

Naturally, it is important that governments do live up to their own responsibilities; and there are particular areas – such as energy generation, for instance; or transport, which in Malta remains the highest source of carbon emissions in the country – where only the government can realistically intervene.

But there are also ways in which the decisions we ourselves take every day, as citizens, can have an impact. If, for instance, you need to go to the grocer to do your shopping… is there a need to go by car, every time? […] There are a lot of things that we can all do, every day, that – while they might not seem like very much – can make a big difference.

To give you just one example: one of the other targets agreed upon is to limit the temperature increase, over the next century, to 1.5 degrees. It is, admittedly, an ambitious target: scientists estimate that, unless drastic measures are taken, the increase is more likely to be around 4 degrees… but one of the ways this target could be reached, in practice, is if people were to simply switch off their laptops for two hours a day.

I’m not saying, of course, that we can overcome the crisis simply by switching off our laptops; or using them a couple of hours less each day. On its own, that will certainly not be enough. Nonetheless, there are certain things we can all do, that could have a large impact.

It is up to us, however, to believe that our actions really can make a difference. It is easy to say: ‘but what difference could I possibly make, on my own?” But if we all say that, nothing will ever change.

If, on the other hand, we ask ourselves: ‘what can we all do, as individuals, to make a difference?’… the answer is: yes, there are small things we can all do, that – even though they appear insignificant – may nonetheless make a huge difference, further down the line.

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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