On the day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly announced that she would block needed reforms to the European Union’s climate package, a crowd of 200 people from more than 20 countries loudly called her and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to task outside the prime minister’s residence in Warsaw. The rally began less than two hours after Merkel entered the building to meet with Tusk about the E.U. package.
For their threats to halt E.U.-wide emission reductions of 20 percent by 2020 unless given the option to hand out extra emission allowances to big German and Polish polluters, Merkel and Tusk both received Fossil of the Day awards. Avaaz.org delivered 126,000 petition signatures to the two leaders from people around the globe, and activists from Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund gave powerful speeches demanding that Merkel and Tusk rescue the economy and the climate simultaneously through green jobs and strong climate protection targets.
But it was young people who made the event possible (a huge majority of those in attendance were in their 20s), and who gave the rally its considerable energy. Anna Keenan of Australia, Sandra Guzman of Mexico, and Hannah McKinnon of Canada, three passionate and inspiring young leaders, brought the rally to a fever pitch with their remarks.
“By the time I retire in 2050,” Anna said, “we will need to have reduced emissions by 95 percent if the planet is still going to be inhabitable.”
“How will we get there if Merkel isn’t willing to start reducing emissions today?”
The youth who rallied in Warsaw today came, by and large, from the conference in Poznan. The geographic composition of the group was about as lopsided as it has been throughout COP 14. But five young leaders from Nepal, Mexico, and Cameroon did rise to speak of the inequalities associated with the global north’s inaction on climate change.
“The struggle to end global poverty and the struggle for climate justice are two sides of the same coin,” said one. “We are here to say, ‘Enough with the nice words. Enough with the nice declarations. This is the time for action.'”
The five speakers had tough words for Merkel and Tusk.
“We ask the leadership of the European Union to look us in the eye and tell us, ‘If 50,000 people were dying every single day in Europe and North America, as they are in the developing world right now, would your response be as timid and lacking in courage as it is now?'”
One of the rally’s recurring themes was the interdependence of our political leadership, and the way in which actions like the ones Merkel and Tusk have taken in the past week give other world leaders places to hide. Yuliya, a young person from Ukraine, told me after the rally that Ukrainian leaders look to Europe for examples. As Ukraine sorts out its own climate protection targets and emissions baselines, which are complicated by the fact that emissions there have declined by 50 percent since 1990 as a result of economic stagnation, Merkel and Tusk’s cowardly actions could create dangerous political ripple effects.
Özlem, from Turkey, said this truth applies to her country as well, but at the level of the UNFCCC:
“Turkey has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. If this E.U. package is blocked, it will give Turkey another excuse to go on without ratifying it.”
Of course, cowardice often comes with a price. Marlon, from Germany, knew exactly what to say when I asked him what he would do if Merkel continued to obstruct climate progress:
“All I know is that I would never vote for her again.”
Changes to the E.U. climate package have not yet been agreed upon, and it is not too late for Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk to re-emerge as principled leaders. Today the international youth climate movement demanded this leadership from them in the clearest possible terms.