Climate change is the real pandemic, and we have a part to play

Through the individual choices that we make when we travel from point A to point B, to the higher-level decisions on what we allow to be manufactured and produced, we all have a part to play in the collective challenge that is climate change

On May 1, Workers Day, I penned an opinion called “Bringing Workers’ Rights into the Future”. In it, I noted that as a society we need to work towards a culture of collectivism and not individualism in order to ensure the wellbeing of society. My piece was penned with workers’ rights in mind, and I firmly stand behind the idea that this is imperative in order to ensure that not only the plight of the most vulnerable in our society is improved, but that we all move forward.

Collectivism is the view that we can live better, as individuals, by ensuring cohesiveness amongst ourselves and by prioritizing our wellbeing as a group. I am a firm believer in the idea that if you set the standard to cater for the most vulnerable in that society, everyone will benefit. Many will argue that this is something that should be applicable only to employment and social rights, but it is becoming increasingly evident that this viewpoint should be applicable for multiple forms of governance, including and especially climate governance.

Climate change is the real pandemic of our time.

The global effects of climate change are being felt with alarming frequency by, for example, freak fires, floods and extreme weather conditions affecting places across the globe from Australia to the Mediterranean. The earth is begging us to take action, and to do it immediately. This is where collectivism comes in. We cannot fight climate change alone as individuals. Not as singular individuals, not as individual states and definitely not as individual continents. What we need to fight climate change is collective governance – and we need it now.

Climate change means radical change

However to ensure good and effective climate governance, we need to think and act differently. We need to reformulate the way that we do the things that allow us to function, and sometimes change the foundations on which our society is built. This is indeed a radical idea, one that invokes much fear among many of us. But if the planet that we are on is not surviving, then our foundations have nothing to stand on.

When I say that we need to rethink the way we function, I mean that we need to rethink three main things: the way we create, consume and move. We need to create in a way that can be reused, not just recycled, and we need to consume in a way which reflects sustainability not squander.

Rethinking the way we move

Out of the three functions where we need radical change, the one which to me is most imperative is that of rethinking the way we move. When I am in Malta, I make it my mission to rethink the way I get around the island. If I have to move between my hometown of Sliema to a nearby town like St Julian’s, I will use a bike or scooter. If I have to travel to a town a little bit further off, such as Msida or Valletta, I will take the bus or preferably, the ferry. If I travel outside of these areas, I will use a car. The change took some getting used to, but I know that my individual decision has an impact on the bigger picture – especially if more and more people choose to do this. I will admit: it is a challenge to get other people to commit to this lifestyle change, especially as we are not there yet in terms of transport infrastructure.

In the next five years, we will be seeing the Government embark on this journey slowly but surely, in order to transition our country away from dependence on mobility choices which pollute, towards choices which reduce. As an avid believer in this goal, I would encourage Government to invest more in short voyage ferry trips across the island as a mobility solution. The government initiative to increase the number of ferry crossings across the island has been a clear breath of fresh air for so many citizens, especially those residing in the southern harbour region needing to travel to the country’s capital every day.

But what happens at a local level is only one part of the chain of change. In order to fight climate change through sustainable mobility, we also need to return to source by rethinking the way mobility is fuelled. Earlier last month, the European Parliament Environmental Committee voted on a set of recommendations to the European Commission on the Refuel EU initiative. The initiative is based on two proposals – one dealing with sustainable aviation fuels, and the other dealing with sustainable maritime fuels.

The European Commission estimates that transport emissions need to decrease by 90% by 2050 in order for us to hit our climate neutrality targets. To do this, the Commission is proposing an initiative which would mandate fuel suppliers to blend a minimum volume percentage of 63% of sustainable aviation fuel in the aviation fuel supply by 2050.

Similarly, the Commission’s second proposal aims to reduce the average carbon intensity in maritime fuels by at least 40% by 2030 and 70% in 2050 and to cut total maritime emissions by at least 50% by 2050. Without taking such drastic action (despite the fact that I would have preferred to see more ambitious targets) the EU will not be able to ensure the International Maritime Organisation 2050 aims, and the Green Deal targets will not be met.

In all of this, while my position is to have the most ambitious policies at Union level, I also want the EU to cater for the specific realities of islands and outer most regions.

Keeping consumers at the core through a just transition

While doing this, the European Union and Member States need to constantly keep consumers in mind.

We cannot move towards the decarbonisation of the maritime and shipping sectors without also ensuring that our policies keep transportation affordable and accessible for all of us in society. We cannot compromise on that, because if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything it is that travel and transportation are essential parts of our lives.

This is why collectivism in the climate cause is so important. If we are to reach our climate goals and create a sustainable future, we need to work collectively. But if we are expected to work collectively, we must have the same opportunity to do so.

Affordability is key here and this is why as Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament we call for a Just Transition – to ensure that no one is left behind. Higher costs for consumers in order to counter the cost of carbon and climate neutrality is not an option.

We need to ensure polluter pay principles are in place, to make sure that it is those most responsible for the deterioration of our planet who are made to change their ways and be held accountable for our planet’s destruction. Industry not families. Contractors not workers.

It is for this reason that we are emphasising on the need of a Social Climate Fund to help families and small businesses through this transition. No one must be left behind.

The road to rectifying the damage that has been done will be long, and the road to ensuring a sustainable future will be even longer.

But we can indeed do it, if we do it together. Through the individual choices that we make when we travel from point A to point B, to the higher-level decisions on what we allow to be manufactured and produced, we all have a part to play in the collective challenge that is climate change.