Authors: Gero Rueter, Ruby Russell
Posted on: Deutsche Welle | 22nd of December , 2017
The European Union has agreed to emission reduction targets for 2030. But far from fulfilling its duties under the Paris Agreement, environmentalists say Europe has abdicated its role as a climate leader.
The European Union has agreed a host of climate and energy targets this week: It’s set energy efficiency standards for new buildings, and agreed to climate targets for 2030.
Europe has a history of progressive environmental legislation, and it political leaders often position themselves as climate heroes. Recently, French President Emmanuel Macron appears to have moved in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s traditional territory as international climate champion, with public displays of support for climate science and attacks on US President Donald Trump’s regressive climate policies.
But behind the bravado, is Europe doing enough to cut emissions? The short answer, environmentalists say, is no.
«Europe is so divided on climate issues, it doesn’t play that leadership role any more,» Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe, told DW.
On Thursday, the European Commission and European Parliament agreed to cut emissions from sectors not covered by the bloc’s emissions trading scheme by 30 percent compared to 2005. That impacts transport, buildings, waste and non-CO2 emissions from agriculture.
European ministers met on Monday to agree a package of climate and energy targets that are to form the basis of EU legislation next year. This week, rather that increasing its ambition, European Commission rules would keep them as they are.
Failing to live up to Paris
But experts say they fall well short of the ambition needed to meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to maximum 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
«Governments know very well that with what’s currently on the table, they’re actually not going to implement the Paris Agreement,» Trio said.
Ahead of the negotiations in Paris two years ago, each country signed up the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change had to submit its own plans to cut emissions.
But there is a significant emissions gap between the combined action countries around the world pledged, and the overarching goal of keeping global warming below 2 degree Celsius.
This will only be met if parties significantly increase their ambition in the coming years — which is foreseen in the agreement with an «ambition mechanism,» where targets are reviewed every five years.
The European Union submitted its targets collectively — promising to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. To achieve this, it planned to reduce its overall energy consumption by 30 percent, and cover 27 percent of the remainder with renewables.
Trio says that with the price of renewable energy falling, Europe should be able to increase its use of renewables far more, pointing out that the target was based on an impact assessment using prices from 2013 that is now very out of date. «The reality is moving much faster than the politicians seem to be willing to accept,» he said.
Calculations for effective policy
The Institute of Applied Ecology (Öko-Institut) in Germany has calculated what measures Europe should be taking, based on the carbon budget left before breaking the 2-degree limit becomes inevitable.
It says Europe must give up fossil fuels altogether by 2040, and proposes a continuous reduction of emissions until 2050, achieving a 55 percent cut by 2030 — by which time renewables should cover 40 percent of energy use.
In November, the European Parliament also recognized the need for more aggressive targets. It’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) narrowly voted in favor of raising the energy efficiency target to 40 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, and the renewables target to 35 percent by 2030.
«Europe must do more, Europe must get more of its energy from renewables if it is to live up to its commitments made in Paris,» the committee’s José Blanco Lopez said.
Divisions with Europe
But Trio says the European Commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, is reluctant to focus on upping climate protection, as this could become a divisive issue in Europe.
There’s strong resistance in particular from the leadership of the European Commission — so, from the cabinet of Juncker — for leaders to not address climate goals because they are afraid this will increase tensions within the European Union.
Engagement in climate issues varies across the continent. Some countries, like Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden — which has written its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2045 into law — have set for themselves higher emissions reduction targets that those of the European level.
But for others, including many of the eastern European countries, climate protection appears to be less of a priority. And even leaders like Merkel and Macron, who have made a show of climate diplomacy on an international level, have been heavily criticized for failing to implement real change at home.
«If you look at the action in the ground, emissions have more or less stalled in Europe over the last two years,» Trio said, adding that countries like China, Japan and even the United States are all seeing emissions fall faster than in Europe.
There was some good news this week, with new EU building regulations established requiring development of strategies to decarbonize building stocks by mid-century.
But groups criticize how the European Commission’s core plan for an Energy Union, which is aimed at greater cooperation between countries and ensuring energy security, hasn’t put nearly enough emphasis on climate protection.
For example, the Energy Union would allow capacity payments to coal-fired powered stations to ensure energy security until 2035 — by which time environmentalist agree we should have ditched coal altogether, if we’re to uphold the Paris goals.
«European Union legislation would allow countries to continue subsidizing coal power plants — which contradicts not only the Paris Agreement, but also previous commitments to phase fossil fuel subsidies,» Trio pointed out.
The new climate and energy targets are to be passed into law in 2018, following a series of debates and votes in the European Parliament.
But with the agreements on the table, Anton Lazarus of the European Environmental Bureau says Europe still looks set to fall short of the action needed to live up to its supposed role as a climate pioneer.
«You have governments going to the One Planet Summit and talking the talk on climate action,» he told DW. «Now, it’s really a question of closing this gap between rhetoric and action.
«And this energy package was a golden opportunity to do that that, appears to be being missed before our eyes. And it’s just a very disappointing end to the year.»