Climate change: What Europe has to offer

ban
The UN General Secretary seems to agree with Europe – Each action counts. Source. UN

The Climate summit took place yesterday at the occasion of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) yesterday. Ban Ki-Moon, General Secretary of the UN, called for this summit with the aim of putting the issue of climate change back on the top of agendas of over 120 world leaders, even though a regular UN climate conference is foreseen for this December. The European Union is represented in New York by the outgoing President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, Commissioner for climate change Connie Hedegaard and Commissioner for development aid Andris Piebalgs. Can Europe use its exaple to stimulate other countries towards a more serious climate action? Which policies does it have at its disposal? Well, Ban Ki-Moon preferred to bet his money on Leonardo Di Caprio.

Climate2014
Climate Summit 2014. Source: UN

In his speech at the Climate summit, Leo said that »climate change is not a hysteria but a fact«. This has also been proven in the recent years by a number of studies made by international organisations and institutions such as the European CEPS, American EPA and global IPCC. The Slovenian ARSO writes at its webpage that »climate change research has become one of the most important contemporary applications of climate data; the biggest challenge remains, however, to distinguish between those changes that are a consequence of human behaviour and natural climate changes.« Whatever might be the case, overburdening nature and unlimited pollution cannot do any good to our Planet. Most world leaders also agree on that and often it seems that Europe is the region most active in persuading other parts of the world to take concrete actions in their climate policies. The European union has its own climate policies at its disposal for fighting and adapting to climate change.

EUROPEAN CLIMATE POLICY

D1107EU0
Source: Economist.com

Preventing dangerous climate changes is a strategic priority for the European Union, says the webpage of the European Commission DG CLIMA. The Union has therefore formed a number of policies which on the one hand allow for fighting climate change and on the other hand help the citizens adapt to those changes that have become inevitable. In this blog, we only look at the former. The latter policies will be presented at another occasion in relation to EU development policies.

EU Member States and representatives of the Union are constantly working on persuading other world countries to follow the EU’s lead. In the recent years, environment policy of the EU is focused more and more on bringing together green technologies at the same time as reducing the greenhouse gas emissions. This would allow for a positive effect on the European economy as well as jobs creation and enhancement of EU’s competitiveness.

A number of documents have been adopted at the EU level in the area of environment policy, which also includes climate change and is defined in Aricle 4 of the Lisbon Treaty. Legislation in this field is subject to shared competence between the Member States and the Union and is constantly subject to revision, adaptations and changes. And even if the EU’s climate goals are based on scientific facts and studies, they reflect a number of political aspects, deriving from dynamics in the Member States, the European Parliament and the World.

HOW OFTEN HAVE WE HEARD 20-20-20

In 2007, the EU leaders decided on three key goals which will lead Europe into a highly energy-efficient low-carbon economy by 2020:

  • Diminish by 20% greenhouse gas emissions as compared to 1990 levels
  • Enhance by 20% the share of energy from renewable sources
  • Improve by 20% the energy efficiency of the Union

The EU also promised its international partners that in case the big world economies decide to follow their example in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Union would move its target to a 30% cut in emissions by 2020.

202020
Source: daikin.co.uk

Mechanisms for achieving the above stated goals were defined in the framework of the »Climate-energy package«, adopted in 2009. In brief:

  • The goal of reaching greenhouse gas emissions reduction would be achieved through two types of mechanisms:
    • Emissions trading through emissions trading scheme (ETS) whereby industries receive or buy emissions coupons for a pre-defined price. Most heavy industries are included in this system.
    • National targets for those sectors, not included in the ETS, among others also transport, buildings and agriculture.
  • The goal for reaching 20% share of energy from renewable sources would be reached through national targets, whereas each Member States would get its target based on its capacities.
  • The goal for improving energy efficiency would be reached through rules related to renovation of public buildings, which were established in the framework of the 2011 Directive on energy efficiency.

AND THEN 30-30-30?

2030
Source: European Commission

At the beginning of this year, the European Commission presented a new proposal for a climate-energy package until the year 2030. Maybe the Commissioner wished to upgrade the previous goals to 30-30-30 and she simply stated that the goal of the new document is to stimulate further advancement towards a low-carbon economy and set up a competitive and safe energy system. However, a new elements, in partucular related to energy, were added to the proposal. Stress was put on energy prices and prevention of energy poverty, energy security as well as diminishing energy import dependency of the EU.

In addition, the Commission’s document among other provisions includes a binding target of diminishing greenhouse gas emissions for 40% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030, a binding target for at least 27% of energy coming from renewable sources by that year and an announcement that a revision of the Emissions trading system (ETS) will be proposed by the end of this year. The European Parliament of the previous mandate did issue its Opinion on the Commission’s proposals but real legislative work will have to be done by the Members of the new European Parliament, most probably already by the end of the first half-term.

THE VOICE OF EUROPE IN THE WORLD – SOFT POWER

windpower_calendar
Source: European Commission

The European Union is making its presence very clear at the international podium when it comes to climate change and environment policies. Representatives of the Union regularly attend yearly UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC, COP), which have been taking place since the signature of Kyoto Protocol back in 1997. This year, COP will take place in Lima, Peru. In the next year, however, world leaders will meet in Paris with the aim to adopt a legally binding climate agreement.

The European Union has until now been leading by example. Unfortunately, however, it finds difficulties in persuading big world economies to join Europe in its fight against climate change by reducing emissions, robust policies in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. The USA has only last year started to put climate change back on its agenda and big and fast developing economies such as China, India and Brasil seem to fail to see an added value of climate action. Therefore, a lot of hard work, negotiations, persuasion and explaining awaits the EU leaders in the future. Sovereignty of states cannot be overlooked and for the EU to advocate for a cleaner world, healthier nature and better life for all world citizens, it will have to use its favourite and probably also its most effective tool – the EU’s soft power.

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Avtor: Špela Majcen Marušič

I am a first-generation student of European affairs from Slovenia, a proud member of the Charles Darwin promotion at the College of Europe with experience in the European Parliament and the UN Refugee Agency. I believe that a kinder world can be created through cooperation and understanding. We are not as different as we tend to believe. You can follow me on Twitter @SpelaMa.

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