Thursday, 23 October 2014

Ensure a EU climate agreement and support a transition towards a green economy

United Nations Photo

by Imme Scholz, Niels Keijzer, Neil Bird, Alejandro Guarín

In 2015, the EU needs to achieve both a substantive climate agreement and an ambitious global development agenda with transformative potential. This is necessary not only for increasing global prosperity in a sustainable way, but for securing its own future.

Climate change is a major threat to future well-being, and it compounds other aspects of global environmental change such as biodiversity loss, desertification, and ocean acidification. The EU has been and continues to be a major driver of those changes. Despite the relatively high efficiency standards in energy use within its borders, Europe’s production and consumption relies heavily on external inputs. Imports of fossil fuels, raw materials, biofuels, virtual water (the water necessary to grow imported food), meat and livestock feed increase the size of Europe’s environmental footprint in an era of increasing resource scarcity.

Until now the EU has been a recognised global leader of climate change policy, both at the international negotiations table and at the cutting edge of implementation at home. But now there are signs of diminishing ambition: the 2014 Commission’s proposal on climate and energy policy eliminates the goal on renewable energy shares at member states’ level and is less demanding with regard to energy efficiency. It proposes a greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 40 percent by 2030 based on 1990 levels. Are 40 percent enough if the Commission calculates that it will reach a reduction of 32 percent already by 2020? And it makes the next stretch of the road much steeper: by 2050, the EU wants to achieve a target of 80 percent reduction.

Therefore, we believe that a higher target for 2030 would a) make the road towards 80 percent decarbonisation by 2050 more realistic by making it more gradual and b) offer space for European demand for emission reduction certificates from developing countries, such that the EU could provide further support for developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions.

The reduction in the EU’s level of ambition can be attributed largely to the nature of the economic recovery of most EU economies after the financial crisis, which has been slow and painful. The governments of several member states are nervous that a commitment to cleaner energy and lower carbon emissions will result in higher energy and transportation costs—both of which are anything but politically palatable. But this perspective ignores ongoing changes outside the EU’s borders: 138 countries are already implementing renewable energy targets. China, the US and many other countries are increasing their investment in renewable energy technologies. In 2012, 40 percent of new photovoltaic modules and 70 percent of new wind power were installed outside Europe. Efforts in energy efficiency are also increasing worldwide, with China and India leading in energy-efficient cement production. Emission trading systems are under preparation in 16 countries and at provincial or state level in the US, Canada and China.

Securing the EU’s position within the leading group of climate and energy policies is thus a matter of maintaining both its clout in multilateral diplomacy and safeguarding its economic competitiveness.

What’s at stake and what the EU should do

A failure to negotiate a climate agreement and an ambitious post-2015 agenda will not only weaken global cooperation but also reduce the EU’s ability of protecting its own citizens from the worst effects of climate change. Neighbouring regions, especially North Africa, the Mediterranean and Southeast Europe, will also be heavily affected by global warming and spillovers to the EU are very likely. At the same time, a proactive climate and energy policy would contribute to maintaining European economic competitive advantages, its significant export trade in the areas of low carbon technology development and implementation, and to reducing its dependence on fossil fuel energy imports.

So far, climate policy commitments fall short of the objectives that scientists claim are necessary to stay within safe planetary limits.

Therefore, the next High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy should build up a much stronger profile in the area of climate change, in close cooperation with the Climate and the Energy Commissioners, and strengthen linkages between climate policy measures in the EU and abroad. This is needed given the importance of reversing climate change as a long-term EU foreign policy interest. The new Development Commissioner, Neven Mimica, should continue on the path started by his predecessor in pursuing the further integration between development and environment policy, including through a post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

The EU has to back its international discourse with far-reaching actions inside its own borders and globally to maintain credibility as a champion of progressive climate and environmental policy. The EU can make a difference: its main contribution will not be to reduce its GHG emissions as already in 2011 they accounted for barely 11 percent of global emissions. What the EU is expected to do is, first, to demonstrate that it is possible to decarbonise an economy, by investing in R&D, changing incentives, policies, and institutional setting, and thus behavioural patterns while maintaining satisfying levels of prosperity. Second, the EU is expected to establish mitigation partnerships with all countries willing to engage in decarbonisation processes, and to cooperate in identifying and implementing solutions for this task.