European Parl declares symbolic "climate emergency"

European Parl declares symbolic "climate emergency"

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President David Sassoli attend a news conference after the vote of Members of the EU Parliament on her college of commissioners, in Strasbourg, France. Photo by REUTERS

European Union lawmakers declared a "climate emergency" on Thursday in a symbolic vote that heightens pressure for action against global warming at an upcoming summit.

With increasingly erratic weather patterns from wildfires in Australia to floods in Europe being linked to climate change, governments are under scrutiny to find urgent solutions at the United Nations' summit in Spain on Dec. 2-13.

After a debate on Monday night, the European Union (EU) legislature voted in favour of the declaration with 429 lawmakers for, 225 against and 19 abstaining.

"It is not about politics, it is a matter of our common responsibility," said parliament's environment committee chairman Pascal Canfin of the Renew Europe group.

Dissenters objected to the word "emergency", saying it was too drastic, and "urgency" would suffice.

Frustrated scientists and activists warn that despite such declarations, the action is still lagging to hit the Paris Agreement target of curbing emissions enough to keep temperature rises to within 1.5-2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels.

However, the EU parliament's vote should help shape policies for the bloc's incoming executive head, Ursula von der Leyen, who assumes office on Dec. 1.

The 28-nation EU is the first multilateral bloc to call a climate emergency but joins numerous individual countries and cities from Argentina and Canada to New York and Sydney.

Lobby groups were pleased but wanted more action.

"Five years ago, no one would have expected the European Parliament to declare a climate emergency, so there's some progress," said Greenpeace's EU pointman Sebastian Mang, adding that "drastic cuts" in emissions must follow.

Von der Leyen is slated to speak on the first day of the Madrid summit. She wants to see billions of euros invested into making Europe the first "climate neutral" continent - adding no greenhouse gases beyond what can be absorbed - by 2050. 

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