WWF's Singer: EU 'cheating' the world on climate change

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The European Union is playing "tricks on the atmosphere" when it claims it will reduce its emissions by 20% by 2020, argues Stefan Singer, director for global energy policy at WWF. Speaking to EurActiv in an interview, he explained how he had calculated that the EU's own domestic emissions will in fact only amount to "4 to 5%".

Stefan Singer is director of global energy policy at WWF.

A short version of this interview is available here.

You have been very critical of Europe recently, saying it is not doing enough on climate change. Can you please develop your argument?

What we did was compare the level of ambition that the European Union is pretending to take, compared to what it means in reality. 20% emissions reduction by the EU by the year 2020 on 1990 levels means no more than 4-5% emissions reductions domestically. 

The 20% is composed of 8%, which we have already achieved between 1990 and 2005. This has already been done because of deindustrialisation in Eastern Europe and because of the UK and Germany. So 12% are left. The two key policies which have been written in the package - the European emissions trading system (ETS) and the effort sharing - both allow for more than 60% of emission to be reduced via the clean development mechanism (offsets in developing countries). 

This in principle would not be a problem if there were to be a strong domestic target as well, and if the clean development mechanism had been shown to be truly additional. But that is not the case. The CDM is under heavy attack, not just from NGOs, but also by scientists, by many governments, because the CDM has been shown to be non-additional. 

The emissions that were reduced by the CDM in developing countries and off-setting emissions in developed countries actually did not achieve what they said they did, because those emissions reductions would have probably occurred anyway in developing countries. So it's a trick on the atmosphere. That's why the UNFCCC, the climate convention, is thinking about reforming the CDM. 

So the EU target is just a 4-5% domestic target when considered as from now on. And I compared this to what the US was doing from 2005, when we had the last verified data. The Obama administration is proposing a stabilisation of emissions in the US on 1990 levels by the year 2020. That is a 19% emissions cut in the US from now on, roughly.

Again, it is not enough to stay below 2°C global warming, because we know all industrialised countries need to reduce emissions by 25% to 40% below 1990. And, on top of that - and not instead - developing countries need to reduce their emissions by 15% to 30% below business as usual by 2020. So both go together. 

If we want to stay below 2°C global warming, the European Union is pretending to do the 20% cut. And then on top of that, they ask developing countries to reduce their emissions by 15% to 30%. That's cheating. That does not help to achieve the 2°C. 

But the bulk of global emissions now are coming from developing countries. China has overtaken the United States as the world's largest polluter and it's using coal massively. Do you think developing countries are doing enough to mitigate their emissions? 

First of all, everyone can and should do more, including China. In the last few years, China has undertaken, and is on its way to undertake, substantive domestic emissions reductions in all fields. China has the most ambitious energy efficiency target of all countries in the world. 

Can you give details?

China has committed to reducing its energy intensity, energy use per GDP, by 20% in just six years between 2005 and 2010, and another 20-30% until 2020. And this is quite substantive if you look at the GDP growth in China. China has a very ambitious renewable energy target, 15-20% renewable by 2020, similar to that of the EU. China has 14 to 16 new pilot projects on coal gasification in the pipeline. We just have one in Europe, because they want to go for carbon capture and storage for new coal-fired power stations. 

They are not doing this in China only because of climate change. That's fine; I don't care why they are doing it. They are doing it because they are concerned about security of supply, because it is very expensive for the Chinese to get the coal that is powering economic growth from the north-west to the south-east, where the industrial centres of their manufacturing are located. 

They also focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy, because they are also concerned about health and air pollution, because air pollution in Shanghai and Beijing is quite substantial. Health and air pollution has a huge impact on the Chinese economy. That's why they are doing it, and that's fine.

So are you saying that China is now leading the world on climate change?

China is definitely one of the world leaders. South Africa, a very coal dependent country, has committed to peak and decline its emissions by 2020-2025. The Philippines, a very poor country, have a law on 50% renewables across their economy by 2020. Mexico has agreed to reduce its emissions by 50% between now and 2050. 

I'm not saying the EU is doing nothing. We have very good laws in a couple of European countries. Renewable energy laws in Germany, and energy efficiency provisions in Sweden etc., but the European Union, as a whole, is losing its leadership on joint harmonised policies to lead the world on decarbonisation. With 4-5% domestic emissions reductions, you cannot have a low-carbon development pathway in Europe. 

But Europe is also starting from a very different base. In countries like Austria, Finland, Sweden or Portugal, the share of renewable energies is already above 20%. And if you include nuclear, the share of carbon-free emissions in the power sector is even higher for countries like France, for example. This is clearly not yet the case in the United States or China. So making comparisons is not entirely fair…

Well, China and the US are very different. China still has only half the per-capita CO2 emissions, and about one third of the electricity consumption per capita of the EU. So China is starting from a much lower level than the European Union. The US is different - it is twice as inefficient as the European Union. I agree on that one. 

I am not saying the EU has done nothing. I am just saying that, if we look at the starting date, the EU will reduce emissions by 20% below 1990 by 2020. But it chose the base year of 2005 as a starting date: 21% on EU ETS, 10% on effort-sharing. So altogether it represents a little bit less than 20%.

So if we start in 2005, that's fine, but then let's put the numbers on the table, let's discuss it. I am not saying a 4-5% reduction is nothing, but it's by no means sufficient to stay below 2°C. 

I've been working with the IPCCC in the past, and we have assessed in Working Group Three that the group of developed countries need to reduce their emissions between 25-40% below 1990, and developing countries in parallel by 15-30%. And developed countries need to help developing countries financially to de-carbonise because they are poorer. It was also agreed in the convention. This is part of the Bali mandate. 

We are not talking about the sum of money. We're not talking at whether it is 30, 50, or 100 billion that we have to pay, because I am not naïve. I know that we are living in a time of a financial crisis.

On the other hand, European states are shifting their polluting industries to the Ukraine, for example, to escape EU climate change legislation. How do you think this will affect the figures?

Ukraine is also part of annex one of the Kyoto Protocol [which sets individual targets for emissions reductions]. Ukraine is part of the inventories, the accounting system of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

Some energy-intensive industries, such as aluminium, have said they are afraid of carbon leakage. Well I have heard the same thing from energy, in terms of industry, for fifteen years on every issue, whether it is social legislation, human rights, God knows what else, they always complain. 

The OECD and the IEA have a study in the making, which shows that if steel were not be produced in Germany anymore, but produced in China or India or in Korea instead, we would have no carbon leakage, because those companies are more efficient, or cleaner, than the German ones.

The point is the steel installations there are much younger. Whereas the German steel companies - ThyssenKrupp and others - are much older. Arcelor Mittal is a good example: in India, they are highly efficient. 

And this is true for all energy-intensive industries. The most inefficient energy-intensive industries you have are in the US, because they are the oldest ones. Europe is in the middle, because Europe had to replace its entire industrial stock after the Second World War. And then the most efficient ones - in some sectors, not all sectors - are mostly in developing countries. That is the reason.

Are you implying that industry relocation to those parts of the world would be a good thing for the environment?

I'm not saying it would be a good thing, because there are social issues. But arguing about carbon leakage is a smoke-screen in most cases - not in all but in most cases. We can talk about what contributes to costs in energy-intensive industries. And I agree that energy-intensive industries should be treated differently under the EU ETS than the power sector, because the power sector can pass on the cost and energy-intensive industries probably cannot. 

They are making an argument of that because they are already working at the margins, and they have to reduce their own emissions and have to pay for the power. But they are already exempted from auctioning under the EU ETS.

How about countries like Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, where steelmaking companies are even older than in the United States?

Well, yes. That's the reason why Russia also has to pick up a very strong climate target, because Russia is one of the industrialised countries. Russia has one of the highest energy-efficiency potentials in the world. If you look at the indicator of energy per GDP, energy intensity, Russia has a high potential.

Do you have specific worries that Russia could stall the negotiations in Copenhagen?

Indeed, I have. Russia is always a very interesting case for a variety of reasons. Experience tells us that Russia always comes in at the eleventh hour with some kind of ridiculous demand. We had this a couple of times - in Kyoto, in Montreal, in India - always. And not just on climate, on all issues, because Russia has an understanding of the UN as a self-service shop: everyone goes in and picks what he or she wants. 

And unfortunately nobody takes Russia too seriously. No one knows how to deal with Russia, because it has very conflicting interests. On the one hand, Russia does not want to be a developed country anymore, they want to be taken out of annex one. On the other hand, they are happy to be part of the G8.

Is that an official stance? Are they asking to be taken out of annex one?  

They had indicated that at Poznań. And then there was a reaction - I think it was from Thailand or Malaysia, which asked them in the plenary if that means Russia wants to leave the G8 as well. And then the Russian guy said “Oops that goes beyond my turf”. So I think it is gaming, it is gaming. But we need in Copenhagen a deal for Russia; whatever that is, we need something for Russia.

What is being done about it? We hear a lot about China…

I am not concerned about China. Everyone talks about China.

…but Russia is seldom cited.

This is because no one knows what is going on in Russia, because it is a big black box. Russia is a problem for Europe, because it is the largest energy exporter to Europe (as you know we had the debate on security of supply with the Ukraine-Russia gas crisis).

So how to deal with Russia? On the one hand, we rely on Russia because we need the natural gas. On the other hand, no one trusts Russia for a variety of reasons - the internal human rights situation, the political situation, games with Georgia and NATO expansion, Iran, and so on…

So no one knows what is to be traded off against what with Russia, because Russia is very often a black box. 

What about those other countries that were mentioned before: Belarus, Ukraine, all the Caucasian countries generally speaking. Are they an obstacle to a global climate deal, in your view?

No, the Caucasian countries actually, the newly independent states, apparently, legally, have so far no status under the UNFCCC. They are there, but the convention originates from 1990, when the Soviet Union still existed. Some are party to it as newly member states now, but it is not clear for all. So this needs to be somehow fixed, and I think it is going to be fixed. 

Belarus and Russia are independent states, which have been established as annex-one countries already. They have an obligation to cut their emissions. It is not much, because they have already reduced their emissions simply because of economic collapse, unfortunately. This is not a recipe for cutting emissions. But they are not that big in emissions. 

Russia is a big thing. Russia is too important, because they are the largest oil and gas exporter in the world. They are bigger than Saudi Arabia, by the way. 

Very often people talk about China and India - don't do that! India and China are fundamentally different. If you look at development pathways and industrialisation, China is as much away from Europe as India is away from China. Just look at the per capita electricity, per capita CO2 emissions; you know India is still at about 1.5 tons CO2 per capita; China is already at four. The same goes with electricity. 

China has a middle class of between 500 / 600 million, and the rest is still very, very poor living in rural areas. But there is migration to the cities, as we know. 

India is different. India has a middle class of about 100 million, which is still quite big. But we have one billion still living in India, many of them below the poverty line on one or two dollars per day. But that's India; it's very different.

Are you saying there's a bigger threat on that side?

I wouldn't call it a threat; I'd call it a challenge. Because I think China is doing lots of things, and India is also doing lots of things. This is often forgotten. I would refer to Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil. This is not of interest to industry, but Brazil committed before the turn of the year to reducing its emissions in the Amazon by 70%. 

Indonesia has committed to reducing emissions by almost 100% in Borneo, which is the largest spot of deforestation. Of course it is not related to industry, but it's still a big chunk of emissions. So this has changed! 

Developing countries are doing something. They're committing. We can all say they're not doing enough, and we need compliance, but they're doing something. 

And that's the second point: independent of the targets - which made us so upset as a global organisation - Europe has fundamentally missed out on giving at least a minimum of cash to developing countries. By arrogantly, really arrogantly, saying 'sorry it's a negotiation, we want to see what the others are doing'. 

This is a recipe for disaster. And Europe is going to be slaughtered by the group of developing countries for that.

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