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OPINION: Impact of youth-led protests

December 15th, 2019 5:02 PM

By Southern Star Team

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THIS month’s UN Climate Change conference in Madrid (COP25) has been trying to emphasise the urgency of immediate action to tackle global warming, egged on by youth-led protests that mobilised millions of people globally throughout 2019. The diminutive Swedish teenager who inspired the students’ protests, Greta Thunberg – who seems to have the time to do so – sailed from the United States to Portugal and travelled on to Madrid, getting there with the least-size carbon footprint she could manage.

One of the topics at the conference was how to reverse ever-increasing aviation emissions, which would mean encouraging more eco-friendly tourism and this would have a knock-on effect for an island nation such as Ireland to where the overwhelming majority of tourists arrive by air transport. As a matter of immediate action, An Taisce wants what it calls the ‘lacuna’ on aviation emissions in the Paris Agreement to be resolved with effective greenhouse gas mitigation and a range of tax measures.

Investing in enhanced renewably-powered rail connections to replace the most heavily-used short-haul flight routes would help with mitigation, while ending the global exemption of aviation from tax, which amounts to a fossil fuel subsidy, and taxing rather than rewarding frequent fliers would discourage unnecessary journeys. Imposing such measures would be much easier said than done and would meet with strong opposition from powerful lobby groups with populist agendas.

However stark the choices may be, we cannot have it every way and people have become conditioned to the prospect of some drastic actions that need to be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A new EU survey showed that close to six out of 10 European citizens said that climate change was one of their leading reasons for voting in the European elections last May, especially for young people, and that now, for the first time, citizens are putting climate change at the top of a Eurobarometer priority list.

The main reason cited for this is the worldwide series of youth-led protests, which 74% of Irish people surveyed feel will have a direct impact on policy at both national and European level. Raising awareness of climate change is a subject Europeans now believe must be the top priority for the newly-elected European Parliament.

Respondents to the Eurobarometer survey were asked which environmental concern is the most pressing: The majority of Europeans (52%) believe that it is climate change, followed by air pollution (35%), marine pollution (31%), deforestation and the growing amount of waste (both 28%).

European Parliament president David Sassoli, who attended the COP25 conference in Madrid, declared that, ‘Combatting climate change and preserving our environment, oceans and biodiversity’ should be the European Parliament’s biggest priority. However, if they want to lead by example, in a practical way, they could start by drastically cutting back on the gross amount of single-use plastic water bottles in the Parliament in both Brussels and Strasbourg.

The urgency of the global warming situation was emphasised by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Madrid when he warned that ‘the point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling toward us.’ We all know the answers, but are we willing to pay the hefty price it will cost to implement them?

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