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Did Covid help Luxembourg combat climate change?
The L Word

Did Covid help Luxembourg combat climate change?

by Sarita RAO 7 min. 25.09.2022 From our online archive
Sarita Rao revisits her 2019 column, A Guide to Greta for Gen X, to see what Luxembourg has done to combat climate change
Young protestors on the Place Clairefontaine in March urged Luxembourg leaders to do more against climate change
Young protestors on the Place Clairefontaine in March urged Luxembourg leaders to do more against climate change
Photo credit: Anouk Antony

When I penned a Guide to Greta for Generation X (and Gen Y too) in October 2019, I had no idea what was in store in 2020.

It was a response to criticisms of the youth climate protests and a look at why the older generation (in which I count myself) were so flummoxed by all the information on what to do, and what not to do, to combat climate change.

In it, I made a joke about finding a cure for a new disease. Little did I know it was actually a prediction. Six months later, the world went into lockdown.

Animals across the planet rejoiced, and reclaimed the streets. Turtle and whale populations rose, whilst emissions fell. Humans became, or were forced to be, greener without retail therapy, eating out and flying to exotic locations. Our green fingers grew things, we walked in nature and worked from home.

Have we forgotten the planet?

Fast forward to this September, and the end of the hottest summer on record in Europe.

Drought, heat and parasites such bark beetles damage trees in Luxembourg, such as these spruces
Drought, heat and parasites such bark beetles damage trees in Luxembourg, such as these spruces
Photo: John Lamberty

In 2022, billions flew around the globe to see loved ones or catch some rays. Shopping centres throbbed with life. People returned to the office. The news broke that the pledge to limit global warming to 1.5°C made at the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 was becoming rapidly untenable.

There were devastating forest fires and equally devastating floods in parts of the world. Yet the G20 countries still produced 36 gigatons of carbon dioxide in emissions.

It hasn’t been all bad news since 2019. The OECD reported that green energy spending was up from 21 to 33 per cent of total pandemic recovery spend. For the first time in Europe, electric and hybrid vehicles outsold diesel ones.

Luxembourg’s record is mixed

The European Investment Bank’s Climate Survey 2021-22 found 77% of those surveyed in Luxembourg thought that climate change impacts their daily lives, but only 34% felt the country would succeed in reducing carbon emissions drastically by 2050. (They're right to be sceptical when Luxembourg's emissions increased by 3.5% in 2021.) 

Some 70% felt they were doing all they could to fight climate change in their daily life, but only 26% thought other people were doing this, and only 56% considered climate change when they chose a holiday destination (below the EU average of 67%). More than 80% believed that climate change would still be a serious issue in 50 years’ time.

What have we done since 2019?

Still waist high in waste

Volunteer-run Foodsharing Luxembourg announced on its third birthday that it had rescued and redistributed 300 tons of food waste in three years. The state opened the Museum of Waste to educate us on the ugly truth about our garbage.

That ugly truth is that we incinerate 165,000 tons of recyclable resources a year, because almost three-quarters (74%) of the rubbish we put in the black bin could be recycled (like food and textile waste). 

We also love our meat, with only 25% in Luxembourg believing that people would switch to a mostly plant-based diet in the next 20 years. This, despite the fact that water pollution in Luxembourg is amongst the highest in Europe due to nitrogen dioxide used in farming, and accidents such as the one in Howald earlier this year which drained sewage into the nearby River Drosbach.

Green energy v. fuel subsidies

Well done to the government for capping or freezing gas and electricity prices, but will it encourage us to turn down the thermostat?

The city announced there would be reduced Christmas lighting and no ice rinks, swimming pools would be 1.5° cooler (if only we could do that to the earth eh?) and street lights would come on a little later. They forgot to tell this to the Cloche d’Or shopping centre, which according to online posts this week was aiming for stress sales by turning up the thermostat to roast clientele.

Whilst there might now be a one-stop shop for green renewable energy  discounts for solar panels and heat pumps, it’s likely that only housing developers are cashing in on Klima Agency subsidies. Who can afford a geothermal pump with inflation and interest rate rises on the horizon?

My roof solar panels don’t work when the sun is too bright – yes, really – and in reality the global cement industry that builds our housing produces three times more emissions than the aviation industry. 

What free public transport?

As rush-hour traffic returned, I thought I’d use more public transport. After all, Luxembourg was ground-breaking in making it free in March 2020. That’s great if you live in the tram-connected city. I don’t.

I can get a bus every two hours from the city to my village. A year ago, I had a choice of two buses, but when RGTR renumbered the bus lines this summer several routes magically disappeared.

Post pandemic and the rise of homeworking, the ECJ's third tower at a cost of €132 million, seems more of a folly
Post pandemic and the rise of homeworking, the ECJ's third tower at a cost of €132 million, seems more of a folly
Photo: Guy Jallay

Cross-border commuters once again face huge queues on the A3 and limitations on homeworking. EU institution employees have been asked to return to the office 2-3 days a week, presumably to recoup the €132 million spent on building a third tower for the European Court of Justice (barely occupied before the pandemic).

Yet according to the European Commission, 230 people in the Grand Duchy die prematurely every year because of air pollution made worse by all those EU institution employees that have to drive to work. 

Eco anxiety and Greta

Have we made any progress? Well, it’s difficult to tell when a pandemic dominated the past three years. If Covid taught us anything, it’s that you won’t convince some people that climate change, like a potentially fatal airborne disease, is a real problem and not a conspiracy.

But we have added eco anxiety (yes, that is a term) to our list of mental health problems.

And what of Greta Thunberg’s “Our house is on fire” speech at Davos in 2019?

Last month, a young Irish painter turned the speech into shapes and colours on a canvas. Jack Coulter based the work “Future Generations” on a line that asks us to safeguard the living conditions of future generations. The painting was auctioned at Sotheby’s for £21,420 earlier this month and the proceeds were donated to the Greta Thunberg Foundation.

Coulter said in an interview that we are up against the most important issue that humanity has ever faced, with a deep-rooted sense of dread that our actions aren’t making a difference.  He’s hopeful though, that small things can become big things. I hope so too.

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