EU leaders agree on 2030 Climate and Energy Package: is “flexible” brave enough?

Participation of Connie Hedegaard, Member of the EC in charge of Climate Action and Jos Delbeke, Director General of the EC's DG Climate Action at the welcome and opening session of the 'Mayors Adapt' event (EC Audiovisual Services, 16/10/2014)

Participation of Connie Hedegaard, Member of the EC in charge of Climate Action and Jos Delbeke, Director General of the EC’s DG Climate Action at the welcome and opening session of the ‘Mayors Adapt’ event (EC Audiovisual Services, 16/10/2014)

The European Union Heads of State last week reached an agreement on what it was welcomed as “the world’s most ambitious” target yet for cutting carbon emissions. European leaders have defined the headline targets and the architecture for the EU framework on climate and energy for 2030, having signed a pact obliging the EU as a whole to cut greenhouse gases by at least 40% compared to 1990 levels by that time.

The agreed targets not only include the cut in greenhouse gas emissions, but also two 27% EU-wide binding targets for renewable energy market share and an indicative energy efficiency improvement. The first one would be binding for the EU as a whole only, while the latter would be optional, although it could be raised to 30% by a review in 2020.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso defined it a “very ambitious, but also achievable target indeed”, in a broader press release published on the EU website the day after the talks in Brussels stretched into the wee hours of Friday. He also stated that the 2030 package “is very good news for our fight against climate change”. “No player in the world is as ambitious as the European Union when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas emissions”, he added, stressing that the proof of this commitment is that the EU practically doubled its efforts, going from a goal of 20% cut by 2020 compared to 1990 to 40% by 2030.

Connie Hedegaard, Commissioner for Climate Action, echoed him, saying the agreement is something to be proud of, and that “the 28 EU leaders, despite economic uncertainty and other severe international crises, were able to get their act together on this pressing climate challenge”.

It’s no secret that the EU strongly wanted to agree on the targets ahead of the Paris UN summit in November and December 2015, where world leaders will (hopefully) agree on a new phase of the Kyoto climate accords that run until 2020. The decisions taken during the late night talks in Brussels aim at strengthening the European Union’s position as a world leader in the fight against climate change to the public opinion and not only.

The EU wants the agreed greenhouse gas target to be the EU’s contribution to the global climate change agreement due to be concluded in Paris next year. This was also made official in the statement that followed the agreement. French President François Hollande said he is convinced that with this deal the EU is “setting an example” to the world, indirectly speaking to the world’s biggest economic powers – and polluters – such as China and the United States.

A few hours before the agreement was reached, Poland threatened to veto the deal unless the costs to its economy and industry were cut under a system of concessions from the EU’s carbon trading system. The eastern European country, which is heavily dependent on coal-fired energy production, fears that this nearly complete reliance on coal would have made it too expensive for it to meet the EU targets.

As reported by the Guardian, Poland’s Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, who was attending her first EU summit, called for a discount of € 15bn – € 20bn between 2020 and 2030, fearing a political bombshell from a deal that could lead coal mines to partial or total closure a year before elections. To secure the deal Warsaw was then promised incentives, including free allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), which aim at stabilising the market along with future reforms to the ETS itself.

The agreement was welcomed positively by the public opinion and by many green unionists and climate change secretariats officers across the EU. At the same time it also generated criticism and it is still hard to see whether is totally supported by all the Member States. The renewables target of at least 27% is binding at EU-wide level but, following the opposition from some countries such as the United Kingdom, it will not be binding at national level. UK Prime Minister David Cameron allegedly wanted to minimise any possible loss of UK sovereignty over energy policy, which would set the stage for further critics from the Eurosceptic wing of his Conservative party and his opponents.

Environmental groups said that the deal did not go far enough to cut global warming. Groups such as Greenpeace and Oxfam openly condemned the deal as being weak. On October 24th Oxfam twitted “It is shocking that business leaders called for more ambitious targets than those agreed by EU leaders”, also defining the agreement as “unambitious”. “EU needs 2 review climate targets after feeble #EU2030 deal. The fossil fuel lobby strikes again”, Oxfam said on Twitter. Oxfam’s harsh tweet refers to the fact that efficiency and renewable targets were watered down.

The European Commission had called for an efficiency goal of 30% originally, which was reduced to 27% across the EU. Moreover a special “flexibility clause” was added to the final text, making it possible for the European Council to review the targets if other countries do not come forward with comparable commitments in Paris in December 2015, which is something that green organizations see as risky for a strong deal to see the light.

Europe is the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter*, releasing around 4 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2012, a figure that has steadily declined since 1990. The US released 5 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2012, while China topped the 10 billion scale on a trajectory that shows little signs of slowing.

No one has done more than the EU to combat climate change or has ever outlined as many proposals as this bloc. But it is only through brave choices that the Union could still be an example to the world, and mark the trend of a greener world.

*Source: 2013 Trends in Global CO2 Emissions, by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre

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