EU should cut emissions by at least 30% to retain leadership, MEPs say

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The EU should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% if a global target of limiting warming to 2°C is to be achieved, Green activists and politicians urged ahead of this week’s two-day European Council in Brussels (10-11 December).

“The heads of state and government should offer a ’30/30′ climate protection package to their international partners: 30% reduction of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions by 2020 and 30 billion euros in financial contributions for climate protection measures in developing countries,” demanded German Socialist MEP Jo Leinen, chairman of the European Parliament’s environment committee and leader of the EU assembly’s delegation to the UN climate conference.

EU countries have already unilaterally committed themselves to reducing their carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

In addition, EU leaders will head to the UN-led Copenhagen conference on climate change with an offer to cut the bloc’s emissions by 30% “provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions and that developing countries contribute adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities,” according to draft conclusions of the EU summit (EURACTIV 09/12/09).

“The EU’s leadership role for climate protection must not be an empty shell but needs to be filled with life at this decisive moment,” explained Leinen, who stressed that the offers currently on the table would not manage to stabilise global warming at a maximum of 2°C.

Indeed, the offers available at present do not please environmentalists or Green politicians either. “The EU is coasting on statistical anomalies. Around half the emissions reductions that have occurred in the EU to date have been the result of the collapse of former Soviet industries and the economic recession, rather than policy choices,” argued Finnish Green MEP Satu Hassi.

Her statement is based on a study published yesterday (9 November) by the Ecofys Institute, a Dutch consultancy firm specialised in environmental issues. The report was commissioned by the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament.

“This study reveals the EU’s proclaimed leadership in international climate policy to be a myth,” Hassi added in a statement arguing that the EU’s flagship emissions trading scheme is at risk of being “ineffective”.

A key theory expressed in the report is that “emissions in the EU declined by 10.7% from 1990 to 2008 for two reasons: environmental policies and the de-industrialisation of Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Without these two factors, emissions would now be above the level in 1990,” reads the study.

The current rate of emission reduction in the EU is only 1% a year, which would be barely enough to achieve the target of a 20% cut, experts estimate. To achieve a 30% reduction, the annual cut of emissions should reach 2%.

Even so, the Greens believe the overall objective of limiting global warming to 2°C will not be reached.

“This would require the EU to promise emissions reductions of at least 40% by 2020. On top of this, the emissions reductions must be delivered domestically and not simply offset by purchasing credits,” argued Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout.

His argument was echoed by NGOs. “Europe must up its commitment and agree to at least 40% emissions reductions by 2020 at home. This is technically and economically feasible,” Sonja Meister, climate campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement.

In December, the Stockholm Environment Institute published a report which estimated the cost to the EU of cutting its emissions by 40% would be “within the range of 1% to 3% of EU GDP” between 2010 and 2020. 

"The EU's leadership role for climate protection must not be an empty shell but needs to be filled with life at this decisive moment," said German Socialist MEP Jo Leinen, chairman of the European Parliament's environment committee and leader of the EU assembly's delegation to the UN climate conference. 

An ambitious offer by Europe will also increase the pressure on other international partners to put improved climate aims on the negotiating table, Leinen explained. "The currently known offers do not suffice at all to stabilise global warming at a maximum of 2° Celsius," he warned.

The global community is currently engaged in negotiations to agree a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

A political agreement is set to be reached at the Copenhagen climate conference, which started on Monday (7 December), but talks have stalled over developed countries' reluctance to commit to concrete financial aid for developing countries and the lack of a commitment to sufficient CO2 reduction targets.

On 10 and 11 December, EU heads of state and government are gathering in Brussels for their customary December summit. It is the last summit before the high-level session of the Copenhagen conference, which will take place next week. 

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