EU leaders must show greater ambition on climate action

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2016 presents a golden opportunity for Europe to make a real impact on climate change. [Alex Lang/Flickr]

To show leadership abroad, the EU must show its credentials through commitment to action. 2016 offers the perfect moment to do this, by pushing through a significant package of climate and energy legislation, write Montserrat Mir, Wendel Trio and Eliot Whittington.

Montserrat Mir is Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC); Wendel Trio is Director of Climate Action Network Europe; and Eliot Whittington is Director of the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group.

In Paris nearly 200 countries came together, united by their commitment to deliver action on climate change. They agreed to deliver a goal of keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts towards a stronger target of 1.5 degrees. Implementing the Paris Agreement can set in motion the transition to a sustainable global economy; it can contribute to peace and security and help to create a climate safe future that offers jobs, economic growth, healthier communities and the eradication of extreme poverty.

This week, leaders from Europe, and from other countries around the world, are travelling to New York to sign the Paris Agreement, marking the next stage of its journey into force. Many countries, including the US and China have pledged to ratify the agreement at this stage and have set out their commitments to implement it.

We work with a wide range of organisations supporting positive social and environmental outcomes – together we represent businesses, trade unions, local authorities and civil society organisations. We have come together now in an unprecedented grouping, in recognition that the agreement struck in Paris in December 2015 is a turning point that requires the EU and the world to step up and raise its ambition.

All countries are being called upon to ratify the Paris Agreement as swiftly as possible, although we recognise that the situation facing the EU is much more complex than for most countries, due to the need for coordination and agreement between its 28 Member States. However European leadership helped deliver the Paris Agreement, and the EU is expected to be at the forefront of working to ratify and implement the agreement.

This legislation can catalyse decisive action from all sectors, in line with the ambitious promise of the Paris Agreement.

We applaud the leadership role that Europe has played to date, but believe that there is a real risk that the level of ambition expressed in the current policy proposals could impact on Europe’s chances of reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement in a fair and equitable manner. Europe’s 2030 legislative agenda risks locking-in insufficient ambition, and thereby undermining the integrity of Europe’s climate policies.

We are proud to announce that more than 70 organisations including major businesses, key EU cities, prominent trade unions, and leading NGOs have written to EU heads of state making this point. They, along with large numbers of their counterparts, are ready to play their part in support of the objectives of the Paris Agreement. To underpin such action, and the investment that goes along with it, a robust European policy framework with strong, economy-wide targets and clear timetables must be developed to drive the EU towards a zero-carbon economy.

This means building on the overachievement of the EU’s 2020 emissions reductions target and ensuring that 2030 and 2050 greenhouse gas reductions targets are in line with the long term goals of the Paris Agreement. With an  ambitious policy framework the EU will see increased returns from investment in key low-carbon solutions like the deployment of renewable energy supply and energy efficiency measures, creating a  more robust and resilient economy .

Together we must develop an innovative and sustainable European economy.  Europe will benefit in terms of the quality of jobs, sustainable development, improved competitiveness and better public health. It must do so ensuring a just transition for the workforce and a healthy environment. Such a Europe will also be more credible and influential on the global stage regaining its status as a committed leader on climate action, and strengthening Europe’s role as a fair partner, particularly to countries who are vulnerable to climate change impacts.

This is the pathway to deliver a sustainable future. But it requires higher ambition in policy today, locking in opportunity that sets our common direction for a decarbonised, healthy, competitive and socially fair future European economy.

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