How to bring 30% back into the emissions debate

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Esther Bollendorff argues that a 30% emissions cut target for 2020 remains viable for the European Parliament.

Esther Bollendorff is campaigner for climate justice and energy at Friends of the Earth Europe.

"Two weeks ago the European Parliament's industry committee (ITRE) voted in favour of at least 25% domestic emission reductions for Europe by 2020.

This comes as a welcome refreshment from a traditionally conservative committee, in times where the climate discussion is in a complete stalemate. Europe is caught in a process where moving beyond 20% cuts depends on political will only.

However, we have been experiencing painfully over the last [few] months that this political will is virtually dead. Civil servants, [European] Commission officials and members of the European Parliament all seem to be paralysed in a 'we can't move' mood. But: why can't Europe move?

According to many politicians, a unilateral move from the EU towards a 30% reduction target would bring economic disadvantages compared to other non-European countries such as the US. Industry would suffer from carbon leakage i.e. loose its competitive advantage and have to displace jobs if other countries across the world do not implement similar climate legislation as we have in the EU with the Emissions Trading Scheme.

However, [the] fact is that carbon leakage has so far not proven to be an issue for those sectors that have screamed out loudest. Several pieces of research show that most of the energy-intensive companies did not have to relocate their operations, reduce their workforce or lose their market share; and only a few sub-sectors representing as little as 1% [of] GDP are really at risk.

Nevertheless the discussion on climate policy has lost all [its] dynamics and is far away from what science says is needed – 40% domestic cuts in the EU if we want to have a decent chance [of staying] well below [a] 2°C temperature increase compared to pre-industrial levels.

And although earlier this year heads of state from Denmark, Spain and the UK [called] for an EU wide 30% target, which would be an intermediate step up to 40%, crucial players such as Germany and France remain silent.

So, it is the industry-friendly ITRE committee that consolidates a timid step into the right direction, 25% domestic emission cuts, as proposed earlier this year by the Commission. But, for the time being there's no certainty that the Parliament's environment committee (ENVI) will vote for a more ambitious target […].

Indeed, conservative members from [the European People's Party] and Eurosceptic ECR [European Conservatives and Reformists] are currently sticking to [an] internal position text which does not go beyond 25% domestic cuts, so not beyond what ITRE has endorsed two days ago.

[The] fact is, however, that ECR members from the UK such as Julie Girling, Martin Callan and Marina Yannakoudakis are by this ignoring their government's official position, which is to go for 30%.

Again, why are politicians not supporting 30% domestic cuts or more? There is a growing consensus that high reduction targets will boost employment in Europe. Today European eco-industries employ approximately 3.4 million full-time equivalents, which is ten times more than the direct employment in the EU's steel sector in 2007.

So the message is clear: ENVI has to vote for 30% and go beyond the ITRE vote. It would be very damaging for the Parliament if ENVI was outvoted by ITRE and even more [so] if it does not live up to its previous climate resolutions, supporting 30% last year in then run up to Cancún and even 40% in 2009 ahead of Copenhagen!"

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