A year on from Power Shift Europe

A year ago this week, Andy, Emma and I left the UK from Sweden as we kicked off the Power Shift Europe training tour. Over two months, we delivered climate change training in 9 countries and jointly ran the Push Europe campaign to push the EU to increase its emission reduction target to 30% by 2020. You can find my summary blog here and all the videos we made during the trip here.

So, one year on, where are we now?

Power Shifts
Our main aim was to support climate leaders in their own countries facilitate a strong national movement on climate change and to empower, mobilise and inspire their peers into action through a Power Shift event.


Between August and November of last year, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Ukraine all held Power Shifts and inspired thousands of young Europeans to join the climate movement through flash-mobs, training, storytelling and campaigns. Some countries are planning a Power Shift for 2012 and for many it has kick started the climate movement. You can see all the photos here.

In February 2012, Power up! – a follow on from last year’s actions – took place in Copenhagen for the European Youth Climate Movement to work together on actions and plans for this year.

Power Shifts across the continent took action and raised the profile of the climate movement – particularly in countries new to the fight. Young climate leaders are now restless for action and having mobilised thousands in 2011, the next step is to mobilise supporters and turn that into policy action.

Pushing Europe to be more ambitious

Despite many organisations campaigning on an increased emission reduction target of at least 30% by 2020, the winding web of European decision-making blocked change from materialising. Last year at the Environment Ministers Meeting in Luxembourg, 26 out of 27 EU countries agreed to raise to target to 25%. Poland, the then holder of the EU Presidency, blocked this and derailed the process. MEPs went on to vote against the measure and EU leaders failed to make headway.

The EU is on course to exceed the 20% current target, though is unlikely to formally raise the target. Bold ambition is needed by the EU and by raising the emissions target could create 6 million jobs by 2020 at a time of widespread unemployment and recession as well as make a gear shift in the UNFCCC negotiations. In not raising the target, we leave the world without an ambitious bloc of developed countries willing to change and offer limited hope that a global deal on carbon emission reductions can be achieved.

Policy wins

In the absence of strong political leadership at the top, the EU policy teams are doing courageous work to bring about the change needed. Connie Hedegaard is bravely fighting America and China over airline carbon pricing introduced in January and the EU will decide in June on the ‘Energy Efficiency Directive’ which will define whether we meet the 20% energy efficiency target by 2020. We also have the chance to label tar sands as a ‘high pollutant’ making it difficult to trade within EU borders as well as reducing the impact of deforestation.

European youth climate movement

Though it is easy to miss, the EU has historically been an ambitious and progressive force in climate policy and because of this, a strong movement has not formed in the same way it has in America or Australia. With many EU countries leading the world in reducing carbon emissions, renewable energy and efficiency, a coherent message on climate chUkraine_picange is hard to hear.

This makes it easier for policies to be challenged, the narrative to be dominated and for the well coordinated big business, oil companies, special interest groups and climate skeptics to be at the top decision making table while the many climate groups tweet about it and stand away from the inner circles.

Strengthening our ranks

In order to have the most power and influence, the youth climate movement needs supporting to act boldly, forcefully and with the tools to mobilise for effective lobbying. We need to become more knowledge based, policy savvy, develop tools for real and meaningful e-participation and engagement and (dare I say it) operate in a way that is built around a coherent strategy for action rather than uncoordinated decisions that makes us weaker overall.

To do this we need specific European wide campaigns, funded support for strengthening and growing our ranks, collaborating on our strategies, sharing tools resources and facilitating actions that have impact on decisions.

20, 40, 60?

We’re 20 years on from Severn Suzuki’s famous Earth Summit speech and now we need to hit hard where we can hurt to make the change we need to see.

Young people of today don’t want to be the Severn Suzuki of tomorrow, the Rio+40s or Stockholm+60s, looking back and thinking, ‘great speech but what’s changed since?’

2 thoughts on “A year on from Power Shift Europe

  1. great post, Alex. Too often pan-european youth stuff seems to me to get stuck in sucking up to established power structures, with limited clarity of vision and action for change. Power Shift shows what can be done and many can learn and be inspired.

  2. Thanks Bill, thoughts appreciated. I think it can be the tricky issues of funding, power and influence and being unsure where in the European decision-making structures we can have an impact. What I’m suggesting now is that having built a movement, we become much more policy specific at an EU level but maintain the inspiration & energy that we have created.

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