Climate change is a true pandemic, and we have a role to play

On May 1, Labor Day, I wrote an opinion piece entitled “Bringing Labor Rights to the Future”. In it, I noted that as a society we need to work towards a culture of collectivism and not individualism to ensure the well-being of society. My work is written with workers’ rights in mind, and I firmly stand behind the idea that it is critical to ensuring that not only is the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society enhanced, but that we all move forward.

Collectivism is the view that we can live better lives, as individuals, by ensuring cohesiveness among ourselves and by prioritizing our well-being as a group. I strongly believe in the idea that if you set the standard to serve the most vulnerable in that society, everyone will benefit. Many would argue that this is something that should only apply to labor and social rights, but it is increasingly evident that this viewpoint should be applicable to many forms of governance, including and in particular climate governance.

Climate change is a real pandemic of our time.

The global effects of climate change are being felt with alarming frequency, for example, with severe fires, floods and extreme weather conditions affecting places around the world from Australia to the Mediterranean. Earth is asking us to take action, and do it right away. This is where collectivism comes in. We cannot fight climate change alone as individuals. Not as a single individual, not as 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

But to ensure good and effective climate governance, we need to think and act differently. We need to redefine the way 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, which causes a lot of fear among us. But if the planet we are on doesn’t hold on, then our foundations have nothing to stand on.

When I say we need to rethink the way we function, I mean we need to rethink three main things: the way we create, consume, and move. We need to be creative in ways that are reusable, not just recycled, and we need to consume in ways that reflect sustainability rather than waste.

Rethinking the way we move

Of the three functions in which we need radical change, one that seems to me the most important is rethinking the way we move. When I’m in Malta, I make it my mission to rethink the way I get around the island. If I had to move from my hometown of Sliema to a nearby town like St Julian, I would use a bicycle or a scooter. If I have to travel to a city some distance away, like Msida or Valletta, I’ll take the bus or better yet, the ferry. If I travel outside the area, I will use a car. Change takes some getting used to, but I know that my personal decisions have an impact on the bigger picture – especially if more people choose to do this. I admit: it’s a challenge to get others to commit to this lifestyle change, especially since we’re not there yet when it comes to transport infrastructure.

In the next five years, we will see the Government embark on this journey slowly but surely, to shift our country from dependence on polluting mobility options, towards reducing options. As a strong believer in this goal, I would encourage the Government to invest more in short trip ferry trips across the island as a mobility solution. The government’s initiative to increase the number of ferry crossings across the island has been a breath of fresh air for many residents, especially those living in the southern port area who need to travel to the nation’s capital every day.

But what happens at the local level is only one part of the chain of change. To combat climate change through sustainable mobility, we also need to go back to the source by rethinking the way mobility is encouraged. Early last month, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted on a series of recommendations to the European Commission on the EU Refuel 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 will need to be reduced by 90% by 2050 in order for us to achieve our climate neutrality targets. To do this, the Commission proposes an initiative that would mandate fuel suppliers to mix 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% by 2050 and to cut total maritime emissions by at least 50% by 2050. Without taking such drastic measures ( despite the fact that I would prefer to see more ambitious targets) the EU will not be able to ensure the International Maritime Organization’s 2050 goals, and the Green Deal targets will not be met.

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

Keeping consumers at their core through a fair transition

When doing this, the European Union and Member States must always keep consumers in mind.

We cannot move towards decarbonizing the maritime and shipping sectors without also ensuring that our policies keep transport affordable and accessible to all of us in society. We can’t compromise with that, because if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us something that travel and transportation is an important part of our lives.

This is why collectivism in climate causes is so important. If we are to achieve our climate goals and create a sustainable future, we need to work collectively. But if we are to be expected to work collectively, we must have equal opportunities to do so.

Affordability is key here and this is why as Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament we are calling for a Fair Transition – to ensure no one is left behind. Higher costs for consumers to offset the costs of carbon and climate neutrality are not an option.

We need to make sure the polluter payment principle is in place, to ensure that those who are most responsible for the damage to our planet made to change their ways and are held accountable for the destruction of our planet. Industry is not family. Contractors are not workers.

It is for this reason that we emphasize the need for a Social Climate Fund to help families and small businesses through this transition. Nothing should be left behind.

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

But we can do it, if we do it together. Through the individual choices we make as we travel from point A to point B, to higher-level decisions about what we are allowed to produce and produce, we all have a role to play in the collective challenge of climate change.

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