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EU Lawmakers Declare 'Climate Emergency,' But Campaigners Say Only 'Emergency Action' Will Prove They Mean It

"Our house is on fire. The European Parliament has seen the blaze, but it's not enough to stand by and watch."

Climate Emergency sign

Activists inflated a huge warming earth globe outside Scottish Government headquarters at St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh in October 2017 to highlight the climate emergency. (Photo: Friends of the Earth Scotland/Flickr/cc)

After members of the European Parliament on Thursday voted 429 to 225—with 19 abstentions—to declare a climate emergency both on the continent and globally, activists called on the European Union to match those lofty words with deeds and take immediate action to combat the increasingly urgent crisis.

"Our house is on fire. The European Parliament has seen the blaze, but it's not enough to stand by and watch," said Greenpeace E.U. climate policy adviser Sebastian Mang. "To put out the flames, we have to take immediate measures in line with the science, drastically reduce emissions, protect and restore the natural environment."

Highlighting key demands from climate campaigners, Mang added that "holding fossil fuel companies responsible, investing in rail and public transport, supporting communities investing in renewable energy, banning pesticides, and ending subsidies for factory farms are just some of the bold ways to take action now."

Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, concurred that "declaring an emergency is important, but any such statement needs to be followed by emergency action."

"To act at the scale of the climate emergency, the Parliament needs to push for real, immediate action," Trio said. "The E.U. needs to increase the climate target to at least 65% emission cuts, and adopt policies and measures that can reduce emissions immediately. People will continue to strike and go to the courts until the climate crisis is taken with more urgency and seriousness."

The symbolic declaration from E.U. lawmakers preceded a pair of youth-led climate strikes, planned for the next two Fridays, as well as the the United Nations COP 25 climate summit, which begins Monday in Madrid.

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Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen—a German politician who starts her new five-year position Dec. 1—put the planetary emergency at the top of her agenda Wednesday, pledging €3 trillion ($3.3 trillion) to tackle the climate crisis and migration, according to EuroNews.

"If there's one area the world needs our leadership, it is on protecting our climate," von der Leyen said. "This is an existential issue for Europe and for the world. How can it not be existential when 85% of people in extreme poverty live in the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change?"

"And we have to make sure that those needs are fulfilled in a sustainable way. It is a generational transition towards climate neutrality by mid-century. But this transition must be just and inclusive or it will not happen at all," she continued. "It will need massive investment in innovation, research, infrastructure, housing, and the training of people. It will require public and private investments—at the European and at national levels."

The majority of pro-E.U. parties voted on Wednesday to approve von der Leyen's new Commission team—with the exception of the Greens, the fourth-largest bloc in the European Parliament.

Politico reported on why the "vast majority" of Green MEPs abstained in the vote:

Empowered by strong electoral showings and mass demonstrations by young climate activists across Europe and around the world, the Greens say they feel powerful enough to make an impact on the European stage without having to commit their votes as a part of a pro-E.U. majority coalition.

"We have sent a yellow card to the Commission, which aims to say, 'It's not fine, things are starting badly,'" said Yannick Jadot, a senior French Green MEP. "We can't give a green light to this Commission, which has refused all the help the Greens offered" on agriculture, climate, trade and the rule of law after May's European election, he said.

For her first official work day Monday, von der Leyen will head to COP 25.

Looking forward to the summit, May Boeve, executive director of the international advocacy group 350.org, said in a statement Thursday that "this is the COP for countries to get serious about ending the production of fossil fuels."

"This is a pivotal moment for global efforts to combat climate change," Boeve added. "We expect governments to come to these climate talks to live up to the moral urgency at hand with clear plans to: cut all public and private funding to fossil fuels, ban new fossil fuel exploration, and enable a just transition for communities currently dependent on fossil fuels for work or energy."

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