Worldwatch Institute

The EU must lead the fight against climate change

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Courtesy of Worldwatch Institute

The potential consequences of inaction for the global climate are looking ever more serious. Sir Nicholas Stern, the author of the acknowledged Stern Review from 2006, which describes the potential devastating economic consequences of climate change, recently gave an interview saying that he had previously underestimated the risks of climate change. He now believes that the world is on track for a global temperature increase of four degrees as a long-term average.

The consequences of such a temperature rise are well described – rising sea levels, extreme weather phenomena, and fertile land turning into desert are only a few of them.

The EU has to go ahead

Unfortunately, the scientific warnings have not resulted in action at a political level. Last year's U.N. climate summit in Doha – COP 18 – did not bring us closer to a solution. The official COP-roadmap foresees a deal to be struck in 2015 and enter into force in 2020. Unfortunately we know that this will be too late to save the climate. As most scientists tell us, the CO2 emissions need to peak around 2015 for us to have a chance to stay below two degrees (which many scientists think is the 'point of no return').

That is why we have to push for action already now – not in 2020! I believe that only the EU has the possibility to take global leadership.

The EU has traditionally been the leader pushing for the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and adopting its own legal targets for CO2 reductions, renewable energy and energy efficiency for its member states. And there is no doubt that the EU is still at the forefront of the struggle against climate change. We have the most ambitious legislation out of all regions in the world, and our Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, is also fighting like a lioness at the international negotiations to reach as ambitious results as possible. But it is not enough. It is not real leadership.

The trouble is that the EU has been too busy fighting internally to make a real difference lately.

Later this year, the next U.N. climate talks – COP 19 – will be held in Warsaw, Poland. This is a bit of a paradox as Poland has consistently been blocking the EU consensus the last couple of years, and refused to commit to anything that will require the least effort. Poland has thus prevented the EU from using its diplomatic resources for putting pressure on China and the USA to go for a more ambitious agreement because the EU has had to spend the time arguing with itself.

The power of the good example

The EU needs to get back on track and use its powers to influence the negotiations in a positive way. There are several ways this could be done.

Firstly, the EU should consider taking more decisions with a qualified majority rather than insisting on unanimity when dealing with climate policy. This way, countries like Poland will not be able to block the rest of the member states if they want to push for more ambitious results in the international negotiations.

Secondly, the EU should show a good example and raise the bar for its internal climate policy. If the EU can turn its climate policy into a good economic business because of energy savings and green jobs, it can inspire other countries and regions to go in the same direction. The EU could do so by raising its internal CO2 reduction target from 20% to 30% in 2020 (compared to 1990 levels).

It is not too late to make a difference. But we have to act now in order to make it. The EU seems to be the only region that has the potential to push the level of ambition.

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