The fight against climate change is a race against time and the clock is ticking. We cannot go back and erase the tracks that led us to where we are today, but we can start changing the course that lies ahead of us. Climate change imperils the health of our planet as well as our own health and prosperity. We must do everything in our power to address this crisis to ensure peace, security and a better quality of life for all.
In 2019, Europeans embraced this challenge like never before. Citizens across the continent rejected the status quo and demanded a say in the tremendous changes to come. Their passionate engagement underscored the deep desire for a new social contract integrating climate protection and social justice. A wave of popular pressure effectively reset the political landscape and made way for ambitious plans on the European level.
As both a convenor and a member of a diverse network, the ECF dedicated its resources to put climate at the top of people’s agendas. Thanks to the support of our funders, we sustained game-changing action at the national and European levels and strengthened the global climate community. Our work within and across sectors and countries focused on four strategic goals: building a shared vision for a net-zero Europe by 2050; greening financial flows; fostering Europe’s global leadership while scaling up international climate action, and supporting climate mobilisation at the national level in Europe.
From the heart of Europe
The year 2019 began with schoolchildren walking the streets of Europe’s main cities to demand tougher climate action. They helped catalyse a broad movement uniting all ages, cultures and beliefs in the fight for our future. The climate issue became the climate crisis, and politicians were eager to be seen responding.
The ECF responded by strengthening its in-country work as well as support for social movements and new activist groups across Europe, promoting change and inspiring citizens to contribute to the goal of a net-zero economy by 2050. We continued to push the EU and Britain to play a front-runner role in demonstrating that the pathway towards this economy is fair, achievable and desirable.
While the call for climate action came from the streets, the ECF’s grantees were instrumental in paving the way for change. They played a key role in the European Council’s decision to make 2050 the official goal to achieve climate neutrality, and took part in the debate on national climate laws in Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Denmark, as well as in the European Commission, where a European climate law is in the making. In Scotland, the government declared a “climate emergency,” which was later endorsed by the entire UK government.
With ECF’s help, the campaign from ZERO has helped the government in Portugal to implement a zero-emission zone in the center of Lisbon and to formally approve the Portuguese carbon neutrality roadmap for 2050. Francisco Ferreira, President of ZERO in Portugal
Climate change won big in the European elections in May 2019, with climate progressive parties gaining ground. New European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen followed the momentum by announcing the European Green Deal as her top priority, for the first time putting the EU truly on track towards a zero-carbon economy by 2050.
The ECF network also threw its efforts into the decarbonisation of several sectors. On coal, utilities contemplated the combination of increasing competition from cheap renewables, high carbon prices, public pressure and the prospects of ever-tighter policies, ultimately pushing European countries to start drafting plans to phase out coal: Greece, Slovakia, Hungary and Spain presented more promising plans, while Germany set a less ambitious phase-out date of 2038.
Mobility was another sector where the tipping point loomed large. Following a five-year campaign funded by the ECF network, the EU set out on a third phase of world-leading CO2 standards for cars, requiring that around 40% of car sales be electric by 2030.
At the same time, our grantees played a crucial role in formulating the first steps of the long-term redefinition of the entire global finance system. They made their voices heard on energy lending guidelines, supporting the decision of the European Investment Bank (EIB) to exclude lending for gas projects. They also contributed to the European Commission’s Green Taxonomy to help investors identify which assets are compatible with our climate goals, facilitating a new turning point.
One last significant milestone in 2019 we witnessed was how the tone of the decarbonisation of heavy industry debate shifted from whether to how. The European Commission set the stage under the Green Deal for an industry that is competitive, digital and in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
From Europe to the world
Thanks to the strong cooperation of our partners, the International Climate Politics Hub (ICPH), housed and supported by the ECF, continued to bolster the global climate movement and scale up global climate ambition nationally and internationally. 2019 came to a close with us having helped ensure that the Paris Agreement is still alive and acting as a framework for global climate action. This wasn’t a given, especially in a world where the political space for ambitious climate action is narrowing in many countries, creating a critical need for global leadership on climate issues.
From Climate Analytics we highlighted the lack of governmental progress against climate change during 2019 and, with the Foundation, we were also able to ensure that a broader audience had access to our on-going analysis of coal, a particular concern in Asia and still in several parts of Europe. Bill Hare, CEO Climate Analytics
Another key area of achievement in 2019 was international climate finance. Together with international partners, the ECF helped ensure the Green Climate Fund (GCF) continued to be one of the main sources of climate financing, with 27 countries pledging to replenish the fund in 2019. While it’s only one small piece of the climate finance puzzle, guaranteeing a strong and renewed commitment to the GCF is crucial to helping unlock resources for developing countries to mitigate against, and adapt to, climate change.
As part of our efforts, a major piece of our work in 2019 was focused around helping to ensure global moments dedicated to climate action were empowered to lead to real change. The ECF helped make the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in September an important step for generating action, increasing a drumbeat of momentum for 2020 and beyond. With support for the ICP Hub, the Summit firmly established the UN Secretary General Antoni Guterres as a definitive voice on climate action and leadership as well as carbon neutrality as the climate ambition benchmark, both wins for the climate community’s long-term strategy.
Closing the year, the ECF and the ICP Hub worked to help the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) held in Madrid in December reinforce the Paris process, prevent backsliding or risk to the principals of environmental integrity, and set the stage for greater ambition to be unlocked ahead of the COP26.
For every success story of 2019, there were also challenges to confront. The rise of populist and nationalist mobilisation against climate action across the world has further polarised the political landscape and nurtured anti-climate narratives. These continuing challenges have underscored the need to intensify efforts in addressing the climate crisis, especially in times of uncertainty. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 shifted our reality, and while governments look for the fastest route back to normal, they endanger their recovery if they leave climate concerns aside.
Now more than ever, the EU needs to have its priorities straight. We are at a crossroads in history, and Europe has a unique chance to set an example and transform crisis into opportunity, designing a plan that considers all factors for a sustainable future: social justice, political commitment, economic growth and environmental actions. The citizens’ movement and the European Green Deal have laid the foundation for change. The ECF network will continue to make the most of our collective resources to support the race to avoid the worst of the climate crisis, and there isn’t a moment to lose.