The Brief, powered by APPLiA – Climate brain death

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

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter [Photo: EPA-EFE/FRANCOIS LENOIR]

‘The Paris Agreement is not dead yet’, climate analysts insisted this week, after crunching the numbers on the latest slew of green policies pledged by countries around the world. But with hope comes the risk of fatal complacency.

Joe Biden’s White House win, China’s carbon neutrality pledge, and Japan’s net-zero emissions plans have led researchers to conclude that global warming is now on track to hit 2.1 degrees by the end of the century.

That means that about half a degree has been knocked off predictions from a few years ago and the world is, as a result, just 0.1 degrees shy of meeting the Paris Agreement’s top-line temperature target.

But – and it is worth pointing out on at least a semi-regular basis – a 2 degrees warmer world is still a nightmare scenario, where inhabitable parts of the planet become arid wastelands, crops fail, migration crises spiral out of control and coastal communities are consigned to oblivion.

So the good news is that there is indeed hope if more countries, particularly big emitters like Brazil, India, and Russia, feel the pressure and throw their lot in with the climate coalition that is slowly taking shape.

The bad news is that there are still a few fundamental issues holding the green effort back.

First and foremost is the persistent idea that the 1.5 degrees of warming Paris target is just an aspirational goal, that it is far out of reach, and that there is no point burning political capital to meet it. As detailed above, we cannot afford not to aim for it.

Second, is the insistence that a balance must still be struck between what is scientifically recommended and what is politically feasible. The UK will be guilty of that when it formally announces a new 68% emissions-cutting goal for 2030.

Experts have said that at least 72% should be the benchmark and that it is affordable. Given the historical emissions of countries like Britain, the beating heart of the Industrial Revolution, a much bigger commitment should be expected.

Third, is the mistake of resting on our laurels. Take energy efficiency improvements as an example: measures like building renovations and insulation reduce power demand and lower bills, but as renewable energy capacity increases, there could be an undesired effect.

Why bother spending millions of euros doing up homes and offices to save on power if energy is rapidly becoming cheaper and cleaner? So long as a building is completely powered by the limitless potential of wind and solar, everything is fine, right?

That is a dangerous trap that has to be avoided, as every green initiative these days is linked to human health and well-being. Better buildings have better air quality. Cleaner transport emits less pollution and so on.

Happier people, obviously, are willing to do more to help society. It is easier to be an altruist if your own life is going pretty well. Less so if you struggle to pay your bills or have chronic headaches due to dirty air on your commute to work.

Next week’s European Council summit is make-or-break time for the EU’s climate-champion-credentials, as the bloc’s member states will be asked to unanimously back a stricter emissions target for 2030.

If an agreement is derailed by petty squabbles over budget and rule of law, the inherent weaknesses of the EU will be exposed once again. Making sure society functions well is a crucial democratic goal, that goes without saying.

But making sure there’s a society at all should always be the top priority.


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The Roundup

Turkey has not de-escalated its stand-off with Greece in response to diplomatic outreach, European Council chief Charles Michel said and warned that EU member states would now consider “the means at our disposal”, which most probably means sanctions.

NATO’s new reform report presented this week has drawn up recommendations on how the military alliance should tackle new challenges in its backyard. EURACTIV spoke to experts about the report and the next steps.

Hungary and Poland have committed to supporting each other’s position in the budget row, and attaching a declaration to the rule of law regulation does not work for Budapest, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a weekly radio interview, following news that Poland may be softening its position on the veto.

After a tough struggle, the three-way negotiations on EU structural funding rules have been concluded and white smoke rose from the co-legislators.

EU leaders will next week adopt a declaration on anti-Semitism urging European governments to impose harsher punishments for online hate crimes and adopt the anti-Semitism definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Negotiators from the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific community signed off on a broad 20-year partnership deal to succeed the Cotonou Agreement on Thursday night after nearly three years of difficult talks.

Italy’s regime of offering corporate tax-exemption to its ports and harbours is a breach of EU competition rules, the European Commission announced, giving the government until 1 January 2022 to ditch the tax perks.

Although sporting events generate large amounts of food waste, French football clubs have found a solution: cooperating with food banks.

Look out for…

  • EU foreign affairs ministers meet on Monday, European affairs minister on Tuesday
  • last EU summit of the year

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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