Climate change and impact austerity take their toll
(9 August 2021) These last weeks hundreds of forest fires have ravaged Greece, Turkey and hit many other countries including Finland, Italy, several countries on the Balkans and Russia. Firefighters and other first responders, emergency and medical workers are in the frontline to save lives, homes and communities. Some lost their lives seeking to save the lives of others. Our thoughts are with them, their families and comrades. We express our solidarity with the firefighters and the unions, with the public service workers and the thousands of volunteers who try to get the fires under control. The damage that is caused to people’s homes, to workplaces and to nature is immense. The lives of ten of thousands are uprooted. Thousands have been evacuated including refugees and asylum seekers.
Firefighters from across Europe are assisting their colleagues through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Firefighting aeroplanes are mobilised and deployed in Albania, Greece, Italy, North Macedonia and Turkey. They are part of rescEU, the European reserve of civil protection assets. We wish them strength and courage in their dangerous work.
These fires come weeks after the terrible impact of the floods that hit Belgium and Germany, as well as the Netherlands and other countries in which many lost their lives. The floods damaged homes, workplaces and a broad range of public infrastructures (like road, rail, electricity, waste disposal, water… ) Firefighters and other public service workers were assisting and are still working to deal with the aftermath.
We have to ask about the causes, how we respond and prepare. As to the direct causes investigations are ongoing and some fires seem to have been started by humans. On a deeper level one of the principal causes is climate change. It makes extreme weather events more frequent and more severe. One the one hand we have heat waves like currently in Greece and Turkey and droughts that make forest fires more frequent and intense. On the other hand, we see extreme rainfall causing more regular and severe flooding. This is confirmed by the International Panel on Climate Change. It just published its report on Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, the Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report. With sea level rise, it underlines that coastal regions will experience more extreme events as well. More needs to be done to ensure global warming remains within the limits of the Paris agreement.
As to how we respond and prepare, EPSU fully supports the need for Green and Social Deals at national as well as European and global levels, ensuring that workers and communities are not left behind and the transformation is just and profound. Mitigating the impact and preventing global warming is the way forward. We have to question how are economic system is functioning as we need a new direction that puts people and our planet before profits. It does mean that more public investment is needed and including in fire services to be able to adapt. We can not leave our firefighters and our public service workers without the means to tackle the problems.
EPSU has underlined how austerity policies have undermined the ability of public services to respond. If fire services are starved of funding, stations are closed, and there is not sufficient investment in trucks, planes and firefighters, peoples and our communities are less protected. If we do not invest in adaptation and develop national and European strategies for public services to prepare for the impact of climate change, the costs will be much higher. It is therefore appalling that some European governments are discussing how new austerity policies can be imposed as soon as possible. EPSU, ETUC and others have made clear and including in the Future of Europe Conference that there can not be a return to austerity. We need a new vision for our societies. This is the view EPSU/ PSI, TUED, ITUC will bring forward to the upcoming COP 26 which will look at the progress to address climate change.
For more information
International Panel on Climate Change August 2021 scientific report “Climate change widespread, rapid, and intensifying”
Impact of austerity on public services – eg. This ILO Study
Paris agreement goal “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”. For more on the Paris agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
But the assessment report of the national measures (national determined contributions) to address climate change underlines how far we are off from making serious progress to contain CO2 emissions. “Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”