The Paris agreement is a springboard for more climate action in Europe

Cap and teamThe climate summit in Paris left many negotiators who had worked for days without sleep with a sense of relief. The Paris agreement marks a major step forward to averting a climate catastrophe. But as we are heading to a 3 degrees warmer world, far from the aspirational 1.5°C goal, we simply cannot afford to stand still. Now is the time to turn the global climate deal into a springboard for more climate action worldwide. And who better than ‘high ambition’ champion Europe to spearhead this movement from words to action?

Less than two weeks ago, a global climate deal was adopted in Paris in which all countries have agreed to take action on climate change. The Paris agreement has been claimed as a measure of success of European diplomacy in establishing a “High Ambition Coalition” of countries that joined forces to push for an ambitious Paris agreement.

The coalition successfully pushed for the inclusion of a review mechanism to every five year enhance the efforts towards the long-term goal of keeping global temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees.

A week from Paris, these lofty words on “high ambition” now also need to be translated into decisive domestic climate actions.  The EU’s climate commissioner Canete phrased it eloquently at the end of the climate summit: “Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we have to act”.

So what are the EU actions after Paris?

At a press conference last week, Commissioner Canete was hesitant to commit to new EU actions. He indicated that the EU will merely continue with implementing its inadequate 2030 climate target, e.g. locking the EU into a high-carbon pathway for another 15 years.

Fortunately other policy makers have a different view. They stressed that the momentum in Paris should not be lost when it comes down to the operationalization of the climate agreement. President Hollande promised that France will submit a more ambitious climate plan before 2020. Members from a wide political spectrum of the European Parliament called for more climate ambition in Europe, both in the short and medium term. The European Council last Friday invited to the Commission to assess the results of Paris by March 2016 in order to prepare next steps in view of the EU’s 2030 climate and energy framework.

So what impact could the Paris agreement have on European climate policies?

The 31-page long Paris agreement and accompanying Decision contain several provisions that will also have an impact on Europe’s climate legislation. They are outlined in detail in our briefing here. In ‘brief’:

  1. Enhancing action prior to 2020 (COP decision) → moving from 20% to 30% reductions by 2020. The conditions that the EU has outlined in the Kyoto Protocol to increase its conditional pledge have been fulfilled with the adoption of the global climate agreement. There is no need to wait: Europe is already on track to reach these 30% reductions by 2020.
  2. Implementing the <1.5°C objective (Article 2.1a) → increasing EU’s mid- and long-term climate targets. At the moment the EU’s climate targets after 2020 are calibrated to limit global temperature rise to 2°C, not 1.5°C. The Commission should publish a new 2050 low-carbon roadmap identifying appropriate targets in line with this new goal, and the EU needs to submit a higher 2030 climate target accordingly.
  3. Operationalizing the 5-year cycles (Art 4.9, Art 14.2) → adopting 5-year ambition periods in the EU’s climate legislation. The proposed 10-year mitigation cycles in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and the Effort Sharing Decision are currently not synchronized to those in the Paris agreement that implements 5-yearly reviews and submissions of climate pledges. Let’s be consistent.
  4. Supporting climate action in developing countries (Art 6, Art. 9) → financing emission reductions abroad (≠offsetting). Support for mitigation abroad needs to come in addition to, and not substitute, European emission reductions, since the Paris agreement obliges Parties to pursue domestic climate measures to achieve their targets. The financed reductions can instead be claimed by developing countries towards their conditional climate pledges.
  5. Recognizing the climate efforts of other countries (whole treaty) → updating the carbon leakage provisions. In light of the Paris agreement where almost 200 countries have agreed to undertake climate efforts after 2020, there is little justification for the EU protecting its own industry to the count of €160 billion pollution subsidies.
  6. Ensuring environmental integrity and transparency when engaging in cooperative approaches (e.g. ETS linking) (Art. 6.2) → introducing EU ETS linking safeguards. Any decision to link the EU ETS with other carbon markets should result in a higher EU climate target to maintain the environmental integrity of the EU’s submitted climate commitment. Moreover, the negotiations to link the EU ETS with other carbon markets should be done in a transparent manner with public access to relevant documents.
  7. Undertaking “economy-wide” emission reductions targets (Art 4.4) → decarbonizing the aviation and maritime sectors. Action by developed countries such as the EU is required to limit the emissions from all sectors (e.g. including aviation and shipping) to stay within the 1.5°C target. This is especially relevant in the case of a continued failure of the international aviation and maritime organisations to tackle the climate impact of international transport.

So what is Europe waiting for?

Indeed. Let’s get to work.