I think that the scientific evidence is clearer day by day how quickly and disastrous the consequences of unrestrained climate change are affecting us. We are increasingly seeing warnings of risks turning into haunting manifestation of disaster across the globe. Just look at Australia, wildfires have killed approximately one billion animals, one billion! Double the population of the European Union. I want to make clear that this is not me conducting project fear; I am just reporting what is actually happening. It is urgent, it is essential; it is undeniable that we need to take action. The risks will only increase, as the earth gets hotter and the climate gets more disturbed.
Climate is changing. We are in a crisis. We saw a record number of cyclones in the Indian ocean last year, the wettest twelve months on record in the United States, the planet’s hottest August on record and it is happening close to our home. Last year temperature records were broken in European countries from Spain to Slovakia, with France recording its highest ever temperature of 45.9°C…
I can go on and on with this. I do think it is good to remind ourselves of this but without giving in to paralysis because it’s happening and we can’t stop it, we can do something about it and this is the most important thing.
The question is, what can we do? As institutions, as individuals, as politicians, as business people, as scientists. What can we do? When I do interviews very often I am very often confronted with a dilemma: “So what is your choice? Do you choose to do something for the climate or do you choose jobs? Do you have any idea what this costs?” And I think it is our duty collectively to explain that choosing to do something against the climate crisis is choosing for jobs, for future jobs. Saying that choosing to invest in this is much smarter than not choosing to invest and spending more money not on investment but on mitigating and on addressing the challenges, which is money that will be spent but which does not bring any revenues, that is not an investment. I think, in our public communication we will have to concentrate on that: to detect the false contradictions and to help people understand that doing nothing does not mean that everything stays the same. That is the biggest trap in public communication: Believing that by doing nothing everything will stay the same. By doing nothing, the problem will get much worse but on the other side by acting we can actually tackle the problem.
This is in my view today the biggest challenge: it is increasingly no longer needed to fight climate deniers. I think climate deniers themselves by now have understood that they are on the wrong track and that they are not very convincing. I have already seen the first climate deniers moving to climate desperation, saying “Why? Let it be, it is too late. Let’s live it out for a couple of years, let’s see what happens”. We saw some of this also last week in Davos. Especially one speech of somebody who is 72 years old and is a billionaire. The issue is that in the first generation, it is not going to have severe consequences before the end of their natural lives, if they have a lot of money they can move to places where they will be less affected by the consequences. But as a dad of two millennials, and two children that are part of generation Z, we are thinking of these generations and we are thinking ahead and they are saying: We ned to act because you are playing with our future.
I will not be cornered by people who say: “because you point to the urgency you are a pessimist and you are all doom and gloom, you should be optimistic”. No, I think there is no optimism in denying it, there is no optimism in saying, “we will all be ok” by doing nothing. People are too smart to buy that. It is like a way of numbing your senses, but it is just like with alcohol: sooner or later you wake up and you have a terrible headache and you have to confront reality. You can’t drown your problems in alcohol. And you can’t drown these problems by denying them. They will come back even stronger.
In this context, what do we need to do? … My fundamental point is: we can do this! We have the science, we have the technology, we can certainly find the money. So why is it difficult? I think the essential issue is one of governance. How do you organise this? Especially a transition that is dual or even triple for Europe. We have the transition because of the climate crisis… We have an industrial revolution that is the first in human history that affects every being on this planet. And as Europeans we also have a demographic challenge combined with the two other challenges that changes Europe’s position in the world. When my parents were born, Europe accounted for 23-24% of the world’s population, Africa 5%; in a couple of years time it will be exactly the opposite. That has huge geopolitical consequences for us and for everyone. These three challenges combined, will dictate the policy choices we make. I believe that this is like any other tectonic transformation humanity has gone through. It’s a challenge to everyone and to every institution. If we deny as political and public institution, that we will have to adapt to this or become obsolete, we will help political forces across Europe and in the world who thrive on creating this feeling ‘we are anti-establishment’.
And if our premise is, and that is the premise I want to work on, we want to leave no one behind, we need to organise it at all levels. Again I repeat, doing nothing does not mean nothing will happen. The industrial revolution will happen. Mother earth will continue to tell us it is enough. If we do nothing, we are no longer in control of either development. But if we act and get together we can bring some control into this.
Source: Timmermans’ remarks at the Conference on the first European Climate Law 28 January 2020 https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/speech_20_144