This article was exclusively written by Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for South East England
The international community is on the eve of discussing one of the hugest challenges facing humanity: climate change. The United Nations Climate change conference (COP21) negotiations which start next week are a key moment for decisive action, but what happens afterwards and in years to come is equally important. An article of this length cannot hope to cover all aspects of the multi-faceted negotiations, but I hope it will provide several key observations from my side as a Green party MEP.
It is now too late prevent some impacts of climate change – we are already seeing irreversible changes to our planet and weather systems. The challenge we face is to limit average global warming increases as much as possible, and to keep it below the 2°C threshold, as agreed on by Governments in Copenhagen in 2009.
Ahead of COP21, parties were asked to come forward with their ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (what they plan to do to reduce emissions, by when and how) and 177 parties have now submitted INDCs. Although the INDCs are voluntary targets, this bottom-up approach is to be welcomed and the submitted INDCs cover just over 97% of global Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The INDCs should therefore be seen as being a significant and positive first step forward.
However, regretfully, these national climate pledges combined are still not enough to keep the planet on a below 2°C pathway, which is crucial if we are to limit the risk of runaway climate change.
To keep on track, the Paris agreement must be legally binding and set a long term measurable goal of phasing out global carbon emissions by 2050. INDCs will need to be revised in a regular and transparent manner starting no later than end of 2018 and take place at least every 5 years.
Furthermore, in order to help build trust between the different parties to the negotiations, adaptation and mitigation must have equal emphasis. Many actors are also stressing the importance of maintaining human rights at the core of climate action. Finally, without going into further detail, it is important to note that an agreement on climate financing is crucial for the success of the negotiations.
While the framework agreed on in Paris will hopefully constitute the start to an effective new chapter of international coordination, reducing emissions in the real world will ultimately depend on how committed and ambitious national governments are, and how they implement emission reduction goals. In this regard, the actions of the EU, as a block of 28 Member States, will be crucial.
The EU currently has a target to reduce its GHG emissions by 20% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, and has already achieved this. The EU should therefore now commit to reduce its emissions further by 2020. The European Academies Science Advisory Council, for example, believes that the EU should reduce its emissions by 30% by 2020, regardless of the outcome of COP21. In order to be consistent with the call for regular, as well as a near term review of INDCs, the EU should also introduce a target for 2025.
Following the talks in Paris, the EU will need to promptly embed the COP21 outcomes into all of its legislation, such as in the future EU Multiannual Financial Framework, and to increase its ambitions in order to phase out all of its own emissions in the next 35 years. It must continue showing real leadership on the international stage.
Sadly, it’s impossible to write about the fight against climate change and national efforts without mentioning the disgraceful record of the UK government. It’s not simply a question of lack of ambition – in too many areas the policies being pursued by my government are actually damaging from a climate perspective. Only last week, leaked documents showed that the UK’s Minister for Energy, Amber Rudd, has been deceiving the public and UK Parliament by implying that the UK is on track to meet its 2020 EU climate targets. We’re not
Rather than investing in the UK’s renewable energy industry, the UK government is intent on slashing support for it, which, in turn, threatens jobs and undermines efforts to avoid dangerous climate change. This is despite the enormous potential that investment in, and support for, community owned renewable energy can bring, which I highlight in a recent report focusing on my constituency the South East of England.
To help ensure a global phase out of all carbon emissions by 2050 we need to phase-in 100% renewable energy and every country has to play its part, the UK being no exception.
Aside from the need for a dramatic u-turn from the government on renewables, they also need to bring about an end to airport expansion, their major new road-building programme and their plans to allow fracking for shale gas. None of the above makes good climate sense.
The measures we need to take to tackle climate change are also good for our economy and our society. The challenge now lies in convincing the UK government, and others like it who are stuck in the past, to change their policies.
Despite the fact that the climate march in Paris has been called off following the recent attacks, I would like to close by encouraging people to join our virtual Paris march:
We need everyone on board and putting pressure on their governments and other decision makers to really make sure that the Paris talks, and what follows, take us in the right direction.
About the author
Keith Taylor MEP is a member of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament, representing the South East of England. Keith sits on the Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee and the Transport and Tourism Committee.
Keith is Spokesperson for the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) on Climate and the Environment and is also Vice President of the UK’s Local Government Association Group in the European Parliament. He is also Vice-Chair of the Parliament’s Animal welfare intergroup and Vice-Chair of the European Alzheimer’s Alliance.
Before becoming an MEP, Keith was a Green Party Councillor for St Peter’s & North Laine ward in Brighton and Hove, England, for 11 years, having been elected in 1999. He served as leader of the Council’s Green group from 2001 until 2009, and was also a Principal Speaker for GPEW between 2004 and 2006, before the party adopted a single leader structure.