“We’re in a cluster of crisis,” said European Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, in a March 2 virtual event hosted by Pitt’s European Studies Center. He cited the interlinked challenges of the pandemic, climate change and global relations among others as he continued: “We will need to face this perfect storm with an integrated plan.”
Speaking from his home in Brussels, Timmermans, who leads the European Green Deal strategy for transitioning the European Union to a sustainable economy and climate neutrality by 2050, highlighted the need for environmental justice, critical thinking and education in a broad discussion in which he took questions from Pitt students and their peers at other U.S. college campuses.
“My hope resides in you,” he told students. “There would not have been a European Green Deal without your generation finally mobilizing to shape the world on the basis of your ideals.”
“We can get out of this,” he said. “The reality is complicated, but the reality also offers us opportunities.”
Because Europe has a plan that outlines a path to climate neutrality while others are still working on plans makes the EU a global leader in this area, but the goal is not to come in first, he said. “What we want to do is to stimulate others to do the same thing.”
A new decarbonized, circular economy that can be productive without using fossil fuels or depleting the earth’s natural resources is needed, but it can’t happen without attention to justice, he said.
“There is no climate justice without social justice. As long as we don’t understand that, we’ll not fix the problem.”
Citing predictions that the economy is on the verge of a new “Roaring ’20s,” he noted that the 1920s led to the bloody decades of the 1930s and 1940s because injustices were not addressed.
Without climate action there will be wars over water, over food and over arable land, he said, adding that the most vulnerable will be affected most.
He cautioned that the window of opportunity is small and climate tipping points are near.
“If we screw up now, I don’t see a way in which my kids and my grandson will not be faced with challenges that will be so daunting that they will be accompanied with conflict and with shortages and with strife,” he said.
Timmermans noted that the strongest bond between Europe and the United States lies in shared values. “We need to foster that bond. If we act together on this, we will shape the world of the future and if we work together on this we can also create a success at COP 26,” the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
“The moment of truth will be whether we can come together as an international community on the basis of a plan that will allow the world to comply with the Paris agreement.”
Pitt Director of Sustainability Aurora Sharrard agreed, saying: “Europe’s green recovery plans address the economic, environmental and social aspects of climate change, which is exactly what we need to be doing worldwide. Especially in communities around the world whose livelihoods have been focused on fossil fuels, Timmermans emphasized the need for just transitions that move people away from carbon-based fuels quickly, while ensuring they have new opportunities in our evolving economy. The Marshall Plan for Middle America lays out similar strategies for our region—and quantifies their benefits.”
Timmermans’ complete remarks and Q&A with graduate and undergraduate audience members will be posted on the University Center for International Studies’ Jean Monnet in the U.S. events page soon.