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EU fight against global warming needs to go local, says former climate chief

Local authorities must be at the forefront of the EU’s climate adaptation strategy because they are the most severely affected by floods, storms and other extreme weather events caused by global warming, the bloc’s former climate chief told EURACTIV.

Hedegaard, a former EU Commissioner for climate action, spoke to EURACTIV on Friday (20 January) on the sidelines of a ceremony in Tallinn to celebrate the European Green Capital Award.

According to her, states and regions need to give greater consideration to climate adaptation strategies in their spending plans.

“Do we really prioritise these things? If the states and the regions are not doing it, I know where the bill hits the most – it’s out locally”.

In case of extreme weather events, local populations are always the most severely affected, Hedegaard said, citing the July 2021 floods in Belgium and Germany, which caused more than 200 deaths and considerable material destruction.

“Who sits there with the problem and the bill? The local municipalities sit with it”.

While Europe is capable of dealing with national authorities, more work is needed to engage in a more efficient dialogue with the regional and local levels, Hedegaard told EURACTIV.

Hedegaard is chair of the board for the EU’s research and innovation mission on adaptation to climate change.

Launched in July 2019, the mission provides support to EU regions, cities and local authorities in their efforts to build resilience against the impacts of climate change. It does so by helping regions better understand the climate risks they are exposed to and develop preparation plans.

The only way to achieve greater resilience to climate change is to cooperate, inspire each other, experiment and share best practices, Hedegaard stressed.

“Everyone would say yes, of course, we must adapt, but many local entities and regional instances are struggling with their own pathways,” she remarked.

“We have regions with very different challenges, but instead of everyone trying to reinvent everything on their own, can we compare notes?”

Risk of pushback and greenwashing

Local authorities may also encounter pushback from citizens while trying to implement green policies due to the fear of negative economic and social impacts, Hedegaard warned during her keynote speech in Tallinn.

To tackle this, local authorities must show people the “attractivity” of the proposed solutions and their benefits to the most vulnerable people.

“In Europe, we have our way of taxation and social way of trying to protect those who are most vulnerable, economically speaking,” she stated.

“But I also would argue that to become more energy efficient, more resource efficient, to reuse materials, to recycle, to have circular economy and to avoid waste – that is not a social downside, that can definitely be done in a socially just manner,” Hedegaard said, highlighting the business opportunities that the green transition offers.

During her keynote speech in Tallinn, Hedegaard also had a warning for European cities trying to brand themselves as green.

The risk, she said, is to set up too ambitious targets that municipalities won’t be able to implement.

“You set up targets to brand yourself, but if you’re not delivering, that’s not only going to be dangerous for your reputation, you will also have very critical citizens,” Hedegaard warned.

“Set up the targets, set that direction, be ambitious – but deliver, implement. People are getting sick and tired of who can say the highest target”.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

Source: Eura Ctiv

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