Climate strikes: people do not want to be left behind, and governments should listen to them

People from all walks of life took to the streets on Friday 20 September demanding urgent climate action from their governments. But our analyses of EU countries’ national climate and energy plans show that so far our leaders are not only failing to deliver the kind of emission cuts needed to stop the climate crisis but also to involve citizens in their climate decision-making. 

More and more people are concerned by the climate crisis and want to contribute to the solution, be part of the change.

This message, however, does not seem to resonate with many politicians and governments around Europe, especially when it comes to planning climate measures that can dramatically reduce carbon emissions and ensure a climate-safe future for citizens. 

The draft national energy and climate plans (NECPs) of EU governments are not fit for purpose to deliver on the Paris Agreement goals. Our analyses of the plans also show that governments broadly failed to involve citizens in decision-making when drafting their plans.

This means that the work is far from done for our governments and they need to find ways to upgrade their plans in a way that ensures that they are robust enough and enjoy broad support among citizens. How to get there?

Support from the streets

On Friday 20th of September, millions of people all across Europe (and the world) took to the streets with the aim to instil a higher sense of urgency in politicians on the climate crisis. What started as youth school strikes last year has quickly grown into a movement that includes adults, businesses, trade unions, academia, and more. Friday’s strikes kicked off a week of action, centred around a UN climate summit on Monday 23 September, where major polluters (unsurprisingly) failed to put forward concrete pledges to ramp up their climate action and therefore to respond to their citizens’ calls.

Can governments afford not to involve people in planning climate policies when so many care enough about the climate to take the streets in masses? We don’t think so. Instead, they should tap into this massive momentum and work together with their citizens on the climate plans.

In practical terms, it means that public consultation should be an integral part of designing (climate) policies. It helps governments gather feedback and input, and increase support for planned policies and required investments. 

Engaging with people from different sectors of society and different levels of governance, not forgetting the public at large brings invaluable depth to discussions around key issues and solutions to transition to climate-neutral societies. EU governments should set up such multi-level platforms as permanent fora where issues, policy measures and solutions can be regularly discussed to inform NECPs and beyond. 

Only this way will we ensure a rapid and just transition to zero-carbon societies.