Signing the Paris climate agreement: Can the EU still be a leader?

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

The EU must commit to increasing its climate targets at the 2018 stocktake of the Paris Agreement. [richardghawley/Flickr]

More than 140 signatures to the Paris Agreement are expected in New York this Friday (22 April). This represents a broad majority of nations worldwide and expresses, once again, political commitment to the fight against climate change, writes Teresa Ribera.

Teresa Ribera is the director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI).

Paris was a success because cooperation and action replaced the zero sum game. It was a success because the agreement combined dynamism and learning with trust and commitment to action, equity and sustainable development.

The Paris climate conference (COP21) has changed expectations and on actors’ assessments of opportunities. Business and investors look differently at their strategic agendas and people are more confident in society’s ability to transform their future. But real success is yet to be proven.

The early entry into force of the agreement would help to ensure the credibility of the system and would add pressure to speed up regulation and coordinated policies. It would also support the efforts of companies shaping their business models and innovation investments in accordance with the fight against climate change. Finally, it would enhance more coherent and fair development patterns, based on solidarity as well as on a smart mainstreaming of the sustainable development agenda everywhere.

It is in this context that the European Union should demonstrate its real capacity to lead a real-economy ‘high ambition coalition’. But today, doubts still exist regarding the EU’s appetite to deepen internal climate action; the ratification process is being slowed down by the weakness of national interests dealing with energy and mitigation policies; and traditional security views are still the predominant focus when drafting the EU’s External Action Strategy.

2016 is an excellent opportunity. European institutions will discuss the main missing pillars of its climate change and energy union policies as well as its External Action Strategy. Europe is still facing great challenges, both at domestic and international levels, which cannot be properly addressed without a new vision. There is no way to ensure a long-lasting-economic recovery, a sound response to a shameful migration and refugee crisis and a politically engaged union of European member states if there is not a profound shift in the way we tackle climate reality.

Our efforts should be concentrated on the following priorities:

  1. The early adoption of carbon price mechanisms both at EU and national level: a revised and effective EU ETS; in non-ETS sectors carbon pricing must enhance the right signals for the transport sector’s emissions; and ensuring a smart use of financial resources to address the concerns of the more vulnerable social groups. In addition, wide reaching energy market reform is required to allow the effective penetration of renewables and the smart retirement of excess inflexible and polluting production capacity. All the policies to be adopted in the coming years to implement the EU’s contribution need to be as ambitious as possible.
  2. The proposal of national low emissions development strategies to ensure a due well-informed debate at national and then EU level on different means to achieve a zero emissions target by 2050 in each member state and then in the EU as a whole. This should include the elaboration of phase-out strategies providing alternative options for a prosperous future to those geographical areas that could feel stranded because of the necessity to rapidly transition to a zero carbon future.
  3. The consideration of climate change as a geopolitical and geo- economic priority in the external action strategy to be presented by Federica Mogherini in the coming weeks, abandoning the concept of climate as a threat multiplier expressed in Solana´s previous strategy and ensuring a right approach to re-assessing policies and creating opportunities and alliances.
  4. The EU must be ready for the stocktaking exercise in 2018 under the Paris Agreement. Firstly, it must be able to show by 2018 that it has made significant progress in implementing its contribution, and kick start the discussion on the EU’s own upward revision of its contribution as early as 2018. Secondly, the EU must shape the design of the stocktaking exercise itself. This must examine the progress of all countries in implementing their contributions, ways to increase ambition in each sector and progress in international cooperation in technological innovation, finance, and policy-making.

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