On Sunday 2nd of December at noon thousands of people will converge from across Belgium in Brussels to urge politicians to take action to meet commitments contained in the Paris Agreement and by doing so to Claim the Climate. Despite having only 12 years left to reduce Co2 emissions by 40% relative to 1990s levels, these have been rising in Belgium over the past few years. Even worse, Belgium has not even prepared an action plan to reflect their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in national policies. This was one of the predicted shortcomings of the Paris Agreement – commitments are merely voluntary and there are no enforcement mechanisms. These crucial commitments could therefore remain mere rhetorical statements unless there is a strong political will to make the necessary reforms to reduce emissions.
While our individual actions and behaviours can have a big impact on our Co2 emissions (eating less meat, flying less, reducing traffic, consuming local and reducing waste…), the necessary emissions reduction will simply not be met without strong public policies. Recent protests across France and Belgium by the “yellow vests”, triggered by an increase on diesel fuel taxes, show that punitive ecological taxes are bound to meet resistance: after years of recommending and giving fiscal advantages to diesel vehicles, there is now a sudden policy reversal promoted by the dieselgate scandal.
While the trigger was fuel price increases, its underlying causes are an accumulation of years of eroding purchasing power and a perception that political elites are favouring big companies and top earners while squeezing middle- and lower-income households. New ecological taxes are seen not as legitimate tools to reduce Co2 emissions but as further fiscal pressure on ordinary citizens. This is to some extent accurate: in France only a fraction of various ecological taxes are spent on the ecological transition. Ecological taxes therefore seem to be funding reduced tax earnings from lucrative tax breaks on companies and high-income households.
Truly ambitious policies are needed to meet national commitments, without which we will be on the road to a catastrophic increase in greenhouse gases: from urban and rural mobility policies to effective ecological transition fiscal policies, drastic measures are needed right away to put us on the path to a more sustainable future. Over 26,000 people have already signed up to march from Gare du Nord to the Parc du Cinquantenaire and it is expected that more than double this number will participate. So, no matter what the weather is, whether you walk, cycle or drive, take the time to demand urgent action on the single largest challenge humanity has ever faced.