In The News: Can Europe unite to fight climate change?

Widespread flooding in central Europe caused ‘terrifying’ destruction last week

Last week, widespread flooding wreaked havoc across parts of central Europe with about 200 people reported dead in Europe's deadliest flood in decades. Rescuers are continuing to try and find the hundreds who remain missing following the natural disaster which spread across parts of Germany and Belgium and also affected Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said the destruction was "terrifying" and that there were "no words in the German language for this devastation".

Earlier that week, a few days before Germany triggered a military disaster alert, the European Commission launched its "Fit for 55" legislative package, with commitments to cut carbon emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990s level.

If the plan is successful, the EU will reach climate neutrality by the middle of the century. But is it realistic for Europe to believe it can reach these targets in less than a decade? And will Germany’s devastating floods serve as a wake-up call for Europeans to the reality of climate change?


The commission’s plan has already been criticised by some member states who say the impact of rising fuel costs will hit the poorest and most vulnerable in society the hardest, despite the commission’s commitment to create a €73 billion “social climate” compensation fund.

There are also fears of a populist backlash akin to France's yellow vest or gilets jaunes protest movement which emerged in 2018 after French president Emmanuel Macron announced plans to increase tax on diesel and petrol as part of the country's transition to green energy.

"Politicians are afraid of backlash from people who rely on cars if they try to make changes that will in the short term," Europe correspondent Naomi O'Leary told presenter Sorcha Pollak.

However, Paris Correspondent Lara Marlowe said she did not expect the yellow vest movement to reappear in the short term because the French president has "abandoned all thought of carbon taxes for the foreseeable future".

Reflecting on the impact of last week's flooding in Germany, Berlin correspondent Derek Scally told the podcast that in many affected areas it was "literally like war damage". He noted that Angela Merkel said last week she had "always consistently pushed" for climate action but that "the appetite wasn't always there in other country".

In the News is presented by reporters Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope.

You can listen to the podcast here: