EU fights shy of post-2012 climate targets

It is "premature" to set medium-term targets to reduce the EU's greenhouse gas emissions in advance of progress in international negotiations, the European Commission has concluded. The Commission also appears to be distancing itself from the EU's previous insistence that emissions trading should be "supplementary" to domestic abatement policies.

Last year, EU leaders asked the Commission to provide "a cost-benefit analysis which takes account of both environmental and competitiveness considerations" to inform their thinking on longer-term climate policy, "including targets".

However, the Commission's Communication - which will be considered at the EU summit in March - concludes that it is "too early" to put forward emission reduction targets.1 The move follows EU Environment Ministers' recent reluctance to endorse numerical emission goals (ENDS Report 360, pp 44-45 ).

The Commission argues that the priority is to establish a multilateral regime to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which only runs to 2012. "The reduction commitments that the EU would be willing to take under such a regime should depend on the level and type of participation of other major emitters."

The Commission suggests that it may make proposals on an EU target before the next round of global climate change negotiations at the end of this year. Whether it does so will depend on the outcome of bilateral discussions with other key nations.

Environmental groups are calling for the EU to commit to reducing emissions by at least 30% by 2020, compared to a 1990 baseline. Satu Hassi, Green vice-chair of the European Parliament's Environment Committee, said "it is abundantly clear that the world needs Europe to take the lead on climate change...The Commission is proposing just the opposite: to make our action dependent on the action of others."

The Commission has, however, reaffirmed a commitment - first agreed by Environment Ministers in 1996 - to ensuring that average global temperatures do not rise to more than 2ºC above the pre-industrial level. Meeting this goal will require global emission reductions of "at least 15%" by 2050, the Commission says. In fact, an emerging scientific consensus suggests that much bigger cuts of perhaps 50% will be needed (see pp 17-21 ).

According to the Commission, achieving the 2ºC goal could require the EU to cut emissions by 1.5% per year between 2012 and 2025. This would reduce GDP by about 0.5% in 2025. The costs could rise "by a factor of three or more" if the EU acted unilaterally, while environmental benefits would be "negligible".

Costs could be cut by a quarter if the EU adopted a less demanding temperature target, the Commission says - but this brings into play the "huge risk of non-linear responses of the climate".

Stephan Singer of environment group WWF argued that "combating climate change will barely impact economic growth, especially as EU GDP is expected to grow by 50% by 2025." He pointed out that the Commission's analysis does not consider economic benefits, such as reduced healthcare costs from lower air pollution, or the costs of failing to tackle climate change.

Other aspects of the strategy include:

  • Use of market instruments: Key elements of the Kyoto Protocol, including emissions trading and project-based mechanisms, "should be retained in any new system post-2012". Indeed the Commission advocates "full and unrestricted use" of such instruments - an apparent move away from the EU's historic insistence that at least 50% of developed nations' emission reductions should be achieved domestically.

  • Inclusion of more policy areas: The Commission calls for the scope of international action to be widened to cover all greenhouse gases and sectors. Rapidly growing emissions from aviation and shipping - currently excluded from Kyoto - are a priority. A "fresh look" should be taken at halting deforestation - seen as vital given that 20% of global emissions arise from land use changes.

  • EU climate change programme: The Commission will launch a new phase of this programme, to be completed this year. It will review existing policy measures and explore new, cost-effective actions.

  • Innovation: The required transformation of energy and transport systems presents "a major innovation challenge" which will require a mix of "push" and "pull" policy instruments.

    A key aspect will be "to take advantage of normal capital replacement cycles" - and that planning "must be based on the necessities of long-term climate policies. The Commission points out that around 700GW of electricity generation capacity in Europe - equivalent to the entire existing capacity - will need to be built by 2030.

  • Adaptation: More resources need to be allocated in the EU to allow effective adaptation to climate change.

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