“We need global response equal to the problem at hand”, Patrick Verkooijen, World Bank special representative for climate change, told a conference at the European Parliament on Thursday (24 January).
EurActiv understands World Bank President Jim Yong Kim will raise the issue of climate change with finance ministers at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.
Governments need to translate the scientific evidence for climate change into further commitments to reduce greenhouse gas levels, EU officials and climate academics said at the Parliament conference.
The World Bank envoy laid out a series of large-scale policy measures governments needed to implement to curb global warming, including ramping up the move away from dependence on fossil fuels, low-carbon systems in cities, and a “truly robust” carbon market.
Climate-oriented better spending
The talk came hours after lawmakers voted down a proposal to support the EU’s carbon market, which dropped to a record low, prompting warnings that governments need to do more to lower CO2 emissions.
Climatologist Dr Bill Hare told the conference the evidence was extremely strong that the current United Nations commitments towards climate change would lead to global temperature increases of 4°C and rising by the end of the century.
Hare, who works at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said the probability was about one in 10,000 that the upward warming trend was just a coincidence, citing figures from the institute’s recent report on climate change commissioned by the World Bank.
The global effects of a 4°C increase would be disastrous, particularly for the developing world, ranging from further hurricanes, droughts and heat-waves to ocean acidification, uncontrollable migratory flows, and species loss, he explained.
“This report needs to be taken into account when decisions are made in the European Parliament, otherwise they are out of context”, said Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Commission's director of climate strategy. He also called for governments to direct the €1 trillion a year of subsidies away from fossil fuels towards greener energy solutions.
Speakers lamented that the economic and financial crisis had appeared to shake governments’ resolve on climate action, fearing ‘costly’ measures could cripple industry.
The group said governments’ pursuit of further climate-oriented measures could suffer as ministers called for cuts to the multi-annual financial framework, the EU’s long-term budget. The European Commission has proposed that 20% of the MFF be spent on climate-relevant policy measures.
“We are at risk with the cuts. We need a budget for the 21st century”, said Kristian Schmidt, director for development at the Commission.
In line with the wishes of member states, in his latest EU budget proposal Council President Herman Van Rompuy has cut by 10% the budget for Official Development Assistance, much of which is geared towards combating global emissions.
“The budget should not come at the cost of the neediest in our world”, commented British Labour MEP Michael Cashman.
“We must connect climate change with economic issues. Some businesses don’t understand anything other than money”, another EU source said.
EU officials suggested it was a contradiction that heads of government had called for ‘better spending’ in the EU budget while losing focus on emissions targets.
A recent WEF study said the world must spend an extra €520 billion a year to curb its addiction to fossil fuels.
The costs of not combating greenhouse gas emissions - from further extreme weather events, infrastructure losses, effects on human health, and knock-on effects on economic output - are estimated to be many times that. The United States has spent an estimated €37 billion on repairing damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, which scientists have linked to climate change.
“We have to drive climate-oriented better spending”, Chrysogelos said.
Speakers expressed worriment over the growing influence of climate scepticism.
“At the moment the tide is going out”, said Chris Davies, a British Liberal MEP. “How do we change the political circumstances.”
European parliamentarians have to approve the final EU budget proposal before it can be put into action. But those in favour of climate action will have a hard time in persuading the sizable ranks of sceptical MEPs to change their mind.
"There are too many [climate] conservatives in the European Parliament", an EU source said.
But to Hare there are reasons for continued optimism: “Scepticism is a huge problem, but the scientific community is beginning to notice what’s happening out there.”
While having a disastrous effect on human life and the economy, huge global warming-linked climactic events such as Sandy and the Australian heat waves had begun to change public perception, he said.
“What the world needs is leadership. This is the biggest collective action problem of all time", Hare said.
Meanwhile, a group of companies has released an open letter, seen by EurActiv, calling on governments to lower barriers to green free trade, writing: “it is extremely important that collective action happens quickly. Therefore, we, the undersigned companies, agree to work pro-actively with governments and civil society organisations to develop a green free trade approach that delivers economic growth and preserves environmental prosperity.”