EU’s zero-emission and youth initiatives as drivers to implement the Paris Agreement? by Hitomi Kimura

Implementation of the Paris Agreement towards COP26 (Glasgow, 2020)

The COP25 in Madrid, Spain, could not, unfortunately, reach an agreement on the remaining rules to fully implement the Paris Agreement from 2020, especially on the market mechanism (Article 6), but only to end up with loose COP decision recalling that “each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then-current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances”. Zero-emission target with the upgrade of nationally determined contribution (NDC) and the role of the youth will be highlighted at the historical COP26 in 2020, to be held in Glasgow, UK. Could EU take leadership for the next steps?

Bottom-up Youth Initiatives in Europe

Intergenerational equity is mentioned as the objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind on the basis of equity. Paris Agreement also mentions the respect of intergenerational equity and climate justice. As the global and regional climate risks are visible, such as extremely high temperature over 30 degrees even in the Arctic Circle, huge forest fires in Amazon rainforest and Australia, extinction of species and food insecurity, the youth started to walk on the streets in the world, insisting climate justice to cope with the current climate crisis and avoid the possible future risks, which affect younger generations more seriously than adults, and the world also started to hear the voices of the youth.

These actions by the current young generation for their own future or their future generation have been out of the traditional scope of intergenerational equity, which has been sought, in principle, by adults who protect children and have voting right in the democratic system to represent children’s right.  However, the direct action by the youth revealed that the current democratic system or traditional norm of intergenerational equity needs reconsideration theoretically and practically to challenge global climate risks. In fact, intergenerational equity is currently limited as moral, but not yet has been developed as a legally effective norm.

This youth action led to the breakthrough of the Green Party in the 2019 European Parliament election and those of member states. Climate litigations by the youth also touch upon the issue of intergenerational equity or climate justice. At the occasion of the UN Climate Change Summit, more than 4 million children participated in the Global Climate March and 16 children including Greta Thunberg, with the assistance from the international law firm, Hausfeld LLP, and Earthjustice, environmental law NGO, submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child the legal complaint to denounce the lack of action by the government. The five respondent countries, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey, have agreed to a communications procedure by the Committee on the legal complaints to violate children’s rights.

These youth actions also accelerated the decision by the EU and some member countries such as Norway, Sweden, UK and Germany to upgrade their long-term emission reduction target to zero-emission by 2050.

“My agenda for Europe” for a climate neutrality

The new President of the European Commission, Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen’s political guidelines for the next European Commission 2019-2024 (“My agenda for Europe”) touches on “A European Green Deal”, which includes the first European climate law to enshrine the 2050 climate neutrality target into law, upgraded 2030 target of 50% (with the aim of increasing to 55%) from the current 40% below 1990 level, financial assistance of 100 million Euro for the transition to low carbon society, establishment of Europe’s climate bank, introduction of carbon border tax to avoid carbon leakage, review of the Energy Taxation Directive and proposal of the European Climate Pact for more education and motivation for a change in behavior. EU Emissions Trading System will be extended to cover traffic and construction, as well as the maritime sector, and reduce the free allowances allocated to airlines by 2030.

The New EU Climate Initiative to reunite Europe?

The new climate initiative is expected, not only to strengthen the 2020 climate & energy package or the EU 2030 Climate and Energy Package but also to reform EU and reunite divided Europe especially after the Brexit due to disparity among people, which has led to the rise of nationalism or populism and Eurosceptic perspective.

Children are our future, and it might be natural that the youth initiates the long-term zero-emission target. The responsibility and decision are in our hands of us adults.


Hitomi Kimura is an Associate Professor in international and domestic environmental law at Otsuma Women’s University, Tokyo. Her research covers the implementation of international/EU environmental laws in member states and Japan. She also worked in the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) as a researcher/fellow, taught at Graduate School of the University of Tokyo, as part-time Lecturer, stayed at Aix-Marseille University (CERIC), as short Visiting and the Institute of Comparative Law of Waseda University, as Adjunct Researcher. She currently serves as Chair of Outreach Committee of the Japan Chapter of the Asian Society of International Law and the Secretary of Kanto Subcommittee of the European Union Studies Association-Japan.

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