EU climate change policies

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The EU has implemented a range of policies to combat climate change and deliver on its Kyoto target of 8% CO2 reductions by 2012. As the negotiations for a new climate treaty continue, the EU is now implementing a set of new policies to reach its 2020 goals.

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A growing body of scientific literature shows that climate change is happening and that it is influenced by human activities that have led to a marked increase in greenhouse gas emissions since pre-industrial times.

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN scientific body, pointed out that 11 of the twelve years between 1995 and 2006 rank among the warmest 12 years on record.

Since the early 1990s, climate change has been moving up the international and European political agenda. The political consensus is that global temperature rises should be limited to 2°C above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid potential catastrophic consequences: heatwaves, floods, storms, etc.

To provide an international framework for stabilising greenhouse gas emissions, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was opened for signature in 1992 and entered into force in March 1994.

Under the convention, an international climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, was adopted in December 1997. It sets binding emission reduction targets for industrialised countries and creates three 'flexible mechanisms' to help lower the costs of reducing emissions: the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI) and Emissions Trading.

The Kyoto Protocol entered into force in February 2005 without being ratified by the US. The withdrawal from the treaty by President George W. Bush in 2001 was a major setback as it effectively left one of the world's biggest emitters without any climate commitments.

In the context of the Kyoto Protocol, the EU-15 committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 8% below 'base year' 1990 levels before 2012, while 10 out of the 12 new member states negotiated their own targets individually.