Does BusinessEurope believe in climate change?

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The employers’ group BusinessEurope will address EU ministers in the competitiveness council this week to warn them that action to prevent global warming must not hinder economic recovery. But his arguments are filled with contradictions, writes Brook Riley.

Brook Riley is an environmental campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

This week the UN's panel of climate experts will give the strongest warning ever of the urgency of addressing climate change.  This same week, ministers attending the EU Competitiveness Council will listen to Markus Beyrer – the director of lobby group BusinessEurope – tell them that action to prevent global warming must not hinder economic recovery.

Based on previous interventions it is possible to predict Mr Beyrer’s comments with reasonable accuracy. He will focus on the 2030 climate and energy dossier. He will probably begin by making clear BusinessEurope’s opposition to EU targets for energy efficiency and renewables. To avoid confusing the market, he will say, the EU should only use the Emissions Trading System to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But, no doubt to the surprise of the ministers present, Beyrer will then go on to say he actually thinks the EU should have two other aims: to re-industrialise Europe and to increase energy security. As it happens, experts agree that both can best be done with … energy efficiency and renewables! In other words, Beyrer is likely to speak against multiple targets in one breath, and with the next call for the creation of an additional two targets.

Then, having talked about the need to focus on the Emissions Trading System, Beyrer will proceed to underscore BusinessEurope’s opposition to fixing the glut of excess permits in the system. In other words, he favours an ETS-only approach – but does not want reforms designed to make the ETS more effective.

His final argument is likely to be that the EU should not show leadership by setting an ambitious target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This would be bad for competitiveness. Instead, Europe should wait until 2015 or later to see what other countries around the world are prepared to do. Meanwhile, the US Chamber of Commerce – BusinessEurope’s counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic – is lobbying in support of the Keystone XL pipeline to open the US market to Canadian tar sands (perhaps the filthiest energy source). It seems the strategy is to ensure nobody takes the initiative on climate legislation.

The contradictions in Beyrer’s standard pitch verge on the absurd. What’s not funny is that his incoherency masks, I suspect, a determined attempt to throw rhetorical dust in our eyes. It seems clear that BusinessEurope’s goal is to obstruct, to delay and to create doubt in the minds of policymakers about the need to address global warming.

It is all the more frustrating that they seem to be succeeding. Many ministers – and EU Commissioners – believe Beyrer's message that there should be a trade off between climate action and economic recovery. The direct result of this is that the EU is developing policies for 2030 which knowingly assume a 50-50 chance of exceeding 2°C of global warming (the 'safe' upper limit the EU has repeatedly pledged to respect).

It would help to tell Mr Beyrer to read the science. The International Energy Agency is becoming a fervent advocate of the need to take urgent climate action and to do so by cutting energy use. The President of the World Bank says we should be ‘shocked into action’.  How can business possibly benefit if global warming is allowed to continue unchecked? This is the key question ministers should be asking at the Competitiveness Council this week.