IPCC Scientist: Climate change will hit Europe’s competitiveness

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One of the lead authors of a key UN climate report launched on Friday (27 September) has told EURACTIV that Europe’s business competitiveness would be badly hit by global warming of the sort most scientists now believe is likely to arise this century.

“If you have change which is that large anywhere, and you’ve built infrastructure to cope with today’s climate, there will inevitably be implications of adaptation and mitigation,” said Peter Thorne, the lead author on attribution and observation for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

He added: “It is beyond doubt that if we want to avoid climate change exceeding two degrees Centigrade, we need policy-makers to implement mechanisms that ensure a large amount of carbon remains under the ground.”

A fuller assessment of the risks would be provided in an IPCC working group report due to be published next spring, he told EURACTIV from the conference in Stockholm.

The fifth assessment report of the IPCC, which brings together the world’s leading climate scientists, focused on the empirical evidence for human-made climate change.

It found that temperatures had warmed by 0.85 degrees since 1880 and that it was “extremely likely” – wording that indicates a certainty level above 95% – that humans had been the “dominant cause”. 

But as they scan the document’s methodically-researched pages, EU leaders may find their attention slip as the claimed impact on European competitiveness of climate policies – and high energy prices in particular – has risen in profile as a political issue this year.

Last week, Markus Beyrer, the director of the employers’ confederation BusinessEurope told an EU Competitiveness Council that the bloc needed to phase out market support for renewable energy, and scale up its planned allocation of free carbon allowances to energy intensive industries.

A recent European Commission decision to reduce the allocation of free emissions credits “will add several hundred million euros to the already uncompetitive energy costs in Europe,” said a letter from Beyrer to the Council.

The EU believes that such measures are needed, to raise carbon prices which fell to record lows this year, so incentivising Europe’s use of cheap coal imported from the US – and increasing the bloc’s emissions.

But the IPCC generally takes a “policy neutral” position on political decision-making debates. In Stockholm, Rajendra Pachauri, the panel’s chairman would only tell a press conference that carbon pricing was “an extremely effective instrument”.

“In the ultimate analysis, it is only through the market that we might be able to make a large and rapid enough response [to climate change],” he said.

The EU’s Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said: ''The issue is not whether to believe in climate change or not. The issue is whether to follow science or not. The day when all scientists with 100% certainty warn you against climate change, it will be too late. If your doctor was 95% sure you had a serious disease, you would immediately start looking for the cure. Why should we take bigger risks when it's the health of our planet at stake? Europe will continue to lead the fight against climate change. We have ambitious legislation in place. We are reducing our emissions considerably, expanding renewables and saving energy. And we are getting ready for the next step: climate and energy targets for 2030 that the Commission will present before the end of the year. The reality is that others are now following suit. Europe will continue to demand more action from all the emitters.''

The IPCC’s report was welcomed by several companies in the Prince of Wales EU Corporate Leaders GroupAndrew Bester, Group Director & Chief Executive, Commercial Banking, Lloyds Banking Group said: “UK Companies from the smallest SME to the largest multinational are the lifeblood of the UK economy and as they regain confidence and look to grow, it is vital that they seize the opportunities of adopting sound environmental practices and manage the risks posed by environmental issues such as climate change. Those that do take action could see cost, competitive and operational benefits, that could help them steal a march on rivals and contribute to the success of the supply chains in which they operate.”

Ian Cheshire, Kingfisher’s Group chief executive agreed. He said: “As companies, consumers, and citizens, we all face significant potential risks from the changing climate, which we must work together to address. This calls for leadership, vision and cooperation. We hope that the UK and other European governments will continue to demonstrate their commitment to developing a new, competitive low-carbon economy.”

Carmen Becerril, Chief International Officer for Acciona argued that the report constituted a warning from science that needed to provide a trigger for action. He said: “A comprehensive, effective and ambitious global response must be agreed at the UN climate change meeting in Paris in 2015, which means we need to start working now to greatly enhance global cooperation and build the foundations for a workable deal and investment in low carbon solutions.”

Peter Simpson, the Managing Director of Anglian Water, said that the science proving climate change was clearer than ever, and borne out by events on the ground. “At Anglian Water we are dealing with increasing extremes of weather, including the impacts of drought and flooding.” he explained. “Rather than spending time worrying about the precise degree to which these are driven by climate change, businesses, politicians and the community need to be renewing their commitment to work together to address the causes and deal with the effects.”

Hubert Patricot, executive vice president and president at Coca-Cola Enterprises said: “Climate change has significant impacts on our core business, and is something we are already factoring into our long-term strategy. This report highlights the reality of climate change to all businesses, but we can’t make a meaningful change alone.  Government and business need to work together to mobilize a concerted and coordinated response to address the most significant environmental issue of our time.”

Dr Graeme Sweeney, Chairman of Zero Emissions Platform, which advocates for carbon capture and storage technology, said “Failing to drive down CO2 emissions could bring huge environmental and economic costs. This latest IPCC report is a stark reminder of the urgent need for political action to reset the EU CCS programme. CCS is an essential technology for the mitigation of CO2 emissions from large-scale fossil fuel use – not only for power generation but also for energy intensive industry. The IEA in its 2°C Scenario (2DS) stresses that CCS will need to contribute 1/6th of the CO2 emissions reductions required in 2050. CCS is therefore critical to achieving the EU long-term goal of reducing GHG emissions by 80-95% by 2050.”

For WWF, Samantha Smith, the head of the group’s Global Climate & Energy Initiative, said: “Whichever facts may be discussed, debated or distorted, we cannot ignore the reality that we must act or face frightening new impacts. We know that most of the pollution that causes climate change comes from burning fossil fuels. WWF calls on governments and investors to stop investing in dirty energy and start an immediate and just transition by investing in renewables.”

Reinhard Bütikofer, the MEP and Co-Chair of the European Green Party said: “This wake-up call is loud and clear. We all know that urgent action is required. European governments must quickly implement plans to reduce emissions or the dangerous impacts already affecting the world will cause immense and irreversible damages. Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies must be phased out, while governments must commit to investing in sustainable, clean technologies."

Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director Andy Atkins chipped in: “Scientists are now as convinced that humans are causing climate disruption as they are that smoking causes cancer - politicians can’t continue to stand idly by while the world goes spinning towards climate catastrophe. Tough action is urgently needed to end the planet’s dangerous fossil fuel fixation and to develop the huge job-creating potential of renewable power – with developed nations like Britain taking the lead.

“The debate about responsibility for climate change is over,” said Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network Europe. “Scientists are more certain than ever that humans are causing climate change but fortunately, equally certain that we still have the time and means to fix it. What we need now is for all 28 EU delegates that signed off on this report to take this mandate back to their capitals and urge their governments to take immediate climate action.”

“The IPCC’s report’s conclusion is unequivocal – climate change is happening and it’s disrupting all aspects of the global economy, including supply chains, commodity markets and the entire insurance industry,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, a sustainability advocacy group. “Business momentum is growing to innovate new strategies and products to manage climate risks and opportunities. But scaling these efforts to levels that will slow warming trends will require stronger carbon-reducing policies globally.”

The EU has set itself a legally binding goal for 2020 of reducing its CO2 emissions by 20% and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix by the same amount, both measured against 1990 levels.

A target of a 20% increase in energy efficiency has also been set but it is not legally enforceable. The low carbon roadmap in March this year stated that if it were met, emissions cuts would automatically rise to 25%, five percentage points above the target.

In October 2009, EU leaders endorsed a long-term target of reducing collective developed country emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. This is in line with the recommendations of the UN's scientific arm - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - for preventing catastrophic changes to the Earth's climate.

  • March 2014: IPCC to deliver second working group report on climate change
  • October 2014: IPCC to deliver synthesis report on climate change.
  • 2015: COP17 parties to agree a new legal framework agreement for a second round of emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol.
  • 2020: New global climate treaty due to come into force.

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