With Christmas nearing and temperatures below zero in many cities throughout the Baltic region, global warming may not come to mind as the most pressing issue. Some might even argue that it would be nice if the mercury would climb a couple of notches in the thermometer.
Unfortunately, chances are that it will, unless we take further action to address the climate challenge. And as numerous reports have documented recently, it is not going to be a pleasant ride. The World Bank used the term ‘devastating’ to describe the world with a four degrees temperature rise, which we are heading towards.
In the Baltic Sea Region, climate change spells more rain, more floods and more – and more extreme –storms. Last summer, In Copenhagen, we got a very pedagogic introduction to what we have in store. Months of rains fell within a few hours. The consequences were flooded streets and homes with extensive material damage. The bill for this one incident reached more than 800 million euros. And that is not counting all the lost time families have had to put in to cleaning up and getting rid of their damaged property.
We often hear the argument that we can’t afford further climate action. And in the midst of the economic crisis where citizens and public authorities are cash-strapped, it is no wonder that people are reluctant to step up financial commitments for any purpose. But it is paradoxical how expenses such as the ones connected with the Copenhagen flooding are rarely discussed by finance ministers. They are just paid. And then we move on.
Tackling the climate challenge will require action at all levels – not least from cities and their citizens. Cities account for almost three quarters of emissions on global level. And I
am glad that the Union of Baltic Cities is actively addressing issues such as energy consumption, energy dependence and adaptation in its Sustainable Action Programme. Much can be done by regional and local authorities in these areas and in the EU we are working to ensure that cohesion funds will be much more targeted to support for instance energy efficiency initiatives under the next multiannual budget. But cities also play a crucial role when it comes to communicating the benefits of climate action to the citizens. Cities are in a much better position to provide their inhabitants with locally adapted, hands-on advice on what they can do to help. Because there IS a whole lot of things people can do – many of which will have benefits both for themselves and their city. Good examples and concrete actions are at the heart of the Commission’s new communication campaign “A world you like. With a climate you like.” And I am pleased that UBC has decided to join us as a partner in the campaign.
European Commissioner for Climate Action.