“Young Europeans – We stand for sustainability and eco-justice!”

In the context of an expert discussion on the 9th September 2014 which was hosted by the COMECE in Brussels, representatives of Christian youth organisations presented their projects for climate protection and an environmentally responsible lifestyle as well as putting forward demands and questions to members of the European Commission and Parliament.

 More than 100 participant followed the invitation of the event, which 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).

Two projects took center stage: As first example, the youth climate conference Klar zur Wende which was presented by German members of the Protestant Youth Association of the Lutheran Church in Northern Germany focusses on changing the way of life in society and church and tackling climate change and its consequences seriously. 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 a leadership of their church in the case of climate protection and for a reduction of carbon dioxide in society. As a second example, the engagement of young people in Italy for tackling climate issues was presented by Igino Zanandrea, director of the organisation Tursimo 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 is carried out very successful in Italy for several years.

Subsequent to these presentations, a panel discussion about 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).

In the beginning, Roberta Di Lecce emphasized the huge challenges which the EU will have to face the next years in the case of climate protection. To gather all European 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 another more responsible than itself. “We must get over this antagonism”, Di Lecce said, “to achieve a common effort against climate change.” She also set out that Europe will have to lead the way for other countries. As 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 reducing carbon emissions in the transport sector.

In contrast, Margarete Auken revealed her disappointment about the little ambitious climate policy of the EU. In her opinion there prevails a misapprehended 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 as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Therefore she pledged that if we don’t act immediately it will soon be too late.

These prospects of Auken were also shared by Yrjo Mäkelä but he didn’t accept the European Commission to 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 short term must be accepted, especially when democratic processes must be respected.

“The youth from today are the people to count on in future”, stated Raphael Breyer. He explained that many young people know about their responsibility, but are often disappointed by recent climate policy. Therefore he hopes that projects and visions of young people get a stronger support. He gave a short account of the EU-funded project I SHOP FAIR which promotes responsible consuming in Germany, Austria, Poland and Malta. Another project of the Federation of German Catholic Youth which is called WELTfairÄNDERER was presented by five young volunteers. It showed practical advice on sustainable living in schools in the area of the Catholic Diocese of Mainz.

A similar approach pursues the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe. Pawel Pustelnik shared his experiences of many discussion projects of ecumenical youth groups all around Europe that deal with the questions of eco-justice. The engagement of young people in climate action is often noticed and welcomed by politics 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 as 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 are doomed to be successful.

Every single person can contribute to eco-justice and make a significant difference, Father Patrick Daly, General Secretary of COMECE, summarized 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.