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Leaders should take advantage of the recovery fund to bring the climate goals of their citizens to fruition and use experience from the past to shape a green future, write NGO members across Central and Eastern Europe countries.

This opinion, originally published by Euractiv on 6 October, was written by six NGO members, listed at the base of the article.*

A growing number of citizens in Central and Eastern Europe want increased climate action. Civil society actors, business, institutes, academia and local communities representatives call on their governments to catch the wave of the European Green Deal, ahead of the European Council next week where EU governments will start discussing the new EU 2030 climate target.

According to the latest available science, Europe needs to strive for at least 65% greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2030 in order to avoid dramatic impacts of climate change and honour its equitable fair share of the commitments made under the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

The recent proposal of the European Commission to increase the EU’s climate target to at least 55% emission cuts, from the current 40%, has sent clear signals about Europe’s determination to strengthen climate action to the international community.

Some say the transformation needed to reach the goal will be costly and challenging – not only for Central Eastern Europe, but ignoring or downplaying the science and the voice of youth will cost even more.

There is growing support for more climate ambition among European citizens: thousands of youth activists go on strike regularly, also in Central European capital cities, and are calling for science-based climate action.

Corporate leaders, cities and regions are becoming drivers of change. We know what to do, and there are already comprehensive visions on how to do it.

If we, as Central Eastern European countries and societies, want to co-shape the future of Europe, we cannot stay behind anymore in this transformation process: our region belongs to one of the richest parts of the world and must take its share in the global efforts against climate change, which hits the most vulnerable countries and communities the hardest.

Central Eastern Europe is already strongly impacted by climate change such as extreme weather events, floods, droughts, shortages in water, and particular regions being threatened by desertification, which translates into massive economic constraints.

Never in its history has the EU mobilised so much public money through its multiannual budget and recently agreed recovery funds to help the EU as a whole to become climate neutral by 2050 and to transform carbon-intensive regions, in particular to leapfrog fossil fuel use to healthy and clean energy systems and economies.

A rapid decline in air pollution and the huge potential of new, safe and green jobs will benefit everyone. But this requires Central Eastern European politicians to adopt a forward-looking vision, by using the experiences and lessons learned from the past transformation processes and putting solidarity in the centre.

Now is the time to use the recovery and EU funds as a tool to transform our economies and societies faster and understand this process as an opportunity.

The Renovation Wave, action on Circular Economy, the Farm to Fork Strategy, sustainable mobility – all these policies set clear responses to many of the economic and social challenges still present in Central European countries and are a chance to improve our environment, health, the competitiveness of our economy, quality of our jobs and lives.

A majority of citizens of our countries perceive climate change as a very serious problem, express broad support for the European Green Deal and for the green recovery – and our politicians should offer adequate answers and actions to these expectations. Coal communities in Bulgaria, Poland and Slovakia actively discuss joint visions for the future of their regions.

Citizens of Bucharest, Budapest and Krakow are demanding policies and measures to improve air quality. Climate change and its impacts are at the core of everyday discussions.

The climate crisis does not wait. The more our leaders would delay necessary action to fight climate change, the more severe and costly the climate change impacts will be. Inclusive and transparent dialogue, solidarity and trust are crucial to create a vision of a just energy and economy transformation – and to make this vision a reality.

That is why we, as civil society actors in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, are calling on our governments to act in a responsible way:

Use the recovery strategies and funds to raise the EU’s 2030 climate ambition to at least 65% emission cuts and speed up the transition towards climate neutrality by linking climate action with the increase of social justice and improvement of the state of the environment, economy and our health.

*Authors:

Radostina Slavkova, Za Zemiata, Bulgaria
Michaela Pixova, Czech Climate Coalition
Urszula Stefanowicz, Polish Climate Coalition
Raul Cazan, 2Celsius (Romania)
Liliana Rastocka, Slovak Climate Initiative
Alexa Botar, MTVSZ (Hungary)

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