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Who is still pursuing the Paris climate goals in Europe?

This article was first published on Euractiv on 29 May 2017

As the negotiations on Europe’s key climate policies draw to an end, it is time to take stock and ask if Europe, a self-proclaimed climate leader, is really delivering on its international commitments, writes Femke De Jong.

Two months ago we released a ranking showing Sweden, Germany and France as the only European countries on the right track to deliver on the Paris Agreement.

Now, European policymakers are close to finalising their negotiations on the EU’s largest climate tool, the so called Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR). This law covers the majority of the EU’s greenhouse gases and aims to reduce emissions from sectors such as transport, agriculture, buildings and waste management by 30% until 2030.

Unfortunately, several countries still want to rig the EU’s main climate law with loopholes so they can continue business-as-usual. These countries ranging from France and Ireland to Hungary and Poland, are pushing to introduce different accounting tricks to sidestep climate action in the sectors covered by the ESR.

At the other end of the spectrum, countries such as Germany and Sweden want the EU to respect its international commitments and lead the way to a decarbonised society.

A coalition of the willing is needed in Europe as much as anywhere else, now more than ever.

A divided European Parliament

Negotiations in the European Parliament are also proving difficult due to a split between progressives and conservatives, and across national lines.

Political groups such as the liberals, social democrats and greens want to make this climate law an effective instrument to limit global warming. This is encouraging. For example, they propose reducing the amount of forestry credits that countries can use to meet their goals, they lower the risks associated with relying on carbon removals that can be reversed when trees are cleared and burned.

The conservative groups, led by UK member Ian Duncan and Spanish Pilar Ayuso, instead advocate for changes to the law that put the implementation of the global climate deal at risk. Under the pretext of ‘rewarding early compliance’, they want to allow countries to use carbon credits from the pre-2020 period when they were still allowed to increase their emissions. This could mean that the EU’s 2030 target is met on paper, but in practice emissions reductions would fall short of meeting the promised 30%.

The same groups are also putting forward an unlimited use of credits from forest management to offset emissions from agriculture and transport sectors.

By now it is clear that all sectors will need to contribute to the efforts of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of this century. If the agriculture sector, for instance, is allowed to continue emitting business as usual until 2030, emission cuts 9 times steeper will be required afterwards to achieve our climate objectives. This is an unreasonable burden to put on the shoulders of the next generation of farmers whose livelihoods will likely also be among those worst hit by the destabilising impacts of a warming climate.

Cities and regions at the forefront of action

So who in Europe is still pursuing the Paris climate goals? It appears that those who are most serious about tackling climate change are mainly the ones who will be responsible for implementing the Effort Sharing law.

Cities and regions see the direct co-benefits that reducing emissions can bring to their citizens, such as reduced energy poverty through deep renovation of buildings, more breathable air due to less polluting cars and cleaner cities as a result of better waste management systems.

Ideally, the numerous local initiatives are spurred by ambitious climate policies at the national and EU level. And it is through policies such as the Effort Sharing Regulation that the EU can underscore its relationship with Europeans by delivering these benefits.

This Tuesday (30 May), members of the European Parliament’s environment committee will have to choose between moving us closer towards a climate-friendly Europe, or dragging their feet at a critical time when Europe’s climate efforts need to be drastically scaled up. Which one will it be?

By Femke de Jong


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