“Young Europeans – We stand for sustainability and eco-justice!”, An experts discussion in Brussels
In the context of discussion among experts on 9 September which was hosted by COMECE in Brussels, representatives of Christian youth organisations presented their projects for climate protection and for an environmentally responsible lifestyle.
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited world leaders from government, finance, business and civil society to an extraordinary UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September. For several years the European Union has been one of the important actors at such summits. Despite its commitment at the global level, there are still many contradictions within the EU itself, especially in the area of eco-justice: for example environmental pollution, widespread poverty or social exclusion. Sustainable living still seems to be perceived as not necessary or affordable for many European citizens.
In the context of an experts discussion on 9 September which was hosted by COMECE in Brussels, representatives of Christian youth organisations presented their projects for climate protection and for an environmentally responsible lifestyle. They also put forward demands and questions to representatives from the European Commission and Parliament. Two projects took centre stage. The first example, the youth climate conference Klar zur Wende was presented by German members of the Protestant Youth Association of the Lutheran Church in Northern Germany focussing on changing the way of life in society and in the church and seriously tackling climate change and its consequences. The young people who gathered at the youth climate conference worked out several theses that were submitted to the Synod of the Lutheran Church in Northern Germany and call for leadership by their church in the case of climate protection and for a reduction of carbon dioxide in the environment. The second project concerned the engagement of young people in Italy for tackling climate issues and was presented by Igino Zanandrea, director of the organisation Turismo Giovanile e Sociale Eurogroup. In connection with leisure events, children and young people learn in a playful manner to take on responsibility for nature and creation. This approach has been adopted very successfully in Italy for several years.
Subsequent to these short presentations, a panel discussion on climate issues was launched between the following representatives: Margrete Auken (Member of the European Parliament), Roberta Di Lecce (Climate Change Attaché of the Permanent Representation of Italy), Yrjö Mäkelä (European Commission, DG Climate), Raphael Breyer (Federation of German Catholic Youth), Pawel Pustelnik (Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe) and Peter Pavlovic (Conference of European Churches).
At the start, Roberta Di Lecce emphasized the huge challenges which the EU will have to face over the next years in the case of climate protection. To bring together all the EU Member States behind one political goal is quite a difficulty since the responsibility for climate action is still at national level and every country holds some other party more responsible than itself. “We must get over this antagonism”, Di Lecce said, “to achieve a common effort against climate change.” She also made the point that Europe will have to lead the way for other countries. As the most important tasks for the Italian Presidency of the European Council, she mentioned the revision of the EU Emissions Trading and the adoption of the guidelines for the EU climate policy from 2020 to 2030. Furthermore, the Presidency wants to strengthen the approach of the European climate policy of reducing carbon emissions in the transport sector.
In contrast, Margrete Auken revealed her disappointment about the less than ambitious climate policy of the EU. In her opinion there prevails a misplaced trust in God that at the end everything will be alright. That such an attitude is fairly negligent is shown by many empirical studies of climate experts such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Therefore she pledged that if we do not act immediately it will soon be too late.
This recommendation of Margrete Auken that action be taken was also shared by Yrjo Mäkelä but he did not accept that the European Commission be considered as idle. The goals of the European climate policy are ambitious and the EU is leading in tackling climate change and creating a greener economy. That such a tremendous conversion of society and economy cannot be achieved in the short term must be accepted, especially when democratic processes must be respected.
“The youth of today are the people to count on in future”, stated Raphael Breyer. He explained that many young people recognise their responsibility, but are often disappointed by recent climate policy. Therefore he hopes that the projects and visions of young people get stronger support. He gave a short account of the EU-funded project I SHOP FAIR which promotes responsible consumption in Germany, Austria, Poland and Malta. Another project of the Federation of German Catholic Youth which is called WELTfairÄNDERER and was briefly presented, promotes discussions on sustainable living in schools in the area of the Catholic Diocese of Mainz.
A similar approach was followed by the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe. Pawel Pustelnik shared his experiences of many discussion projects of ecumenical youth groups all over Europe that deal with the questions of climate and eco-justice. The engagement of young people in climate action is often noticed and welcomed by politicians but he admitted that there could be more support for such grass root initiatives.
“Ambitious, fair and binding”: these are the expectations of the Conference of European Churches towards what the European climate policy should be, as Peter Pavlovic outlined. It must not be forgotten that already today many people in the world fall victim to climate change. That is why the coming global climate summits must be successful.
Every single person can contribute to eco-justice and make a significant difference, Fr. Patrick Daly, General Secretary of COMECE, summarized the proceedings at the end of the evening. Christian responsibility for the integrity of creation must lead us all to a sensible and sustainable way of life for the sake of future generations.
The event was organized in ecumenical partnership by six Christian youth organisations and church representations: the Federation of Protestant Youth in Germany (aej), the Conference of European Churches (CEC), the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), Don Bosco International, the Brussels Office of the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD), the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe (EYCE) and the European Office for Catholic Youth and Adult Education (Rete Juventutis).
The Preparatory Team „ECO-Justice“
Anna Echterhoff was the COMECE staff member on this preparatory Committee
Translated from the original text in German