A chance to take the lead on climate action

The debate on climate change has reached a stalemate both at a global level and within the EU. What are countries mostly disagreeing about?

The evidence

Nowadays, climate change constitutes one of the main priorities to be urgently addressed by human kind. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there’s more than 95% chance that human activity has caused the earth to warm up in the last 150 years. Through industrial processes, human kind has increased the production of greenhouse gases, which trap the heath under the atmosphere causing consistent damage to the environment, such as a rise in global temperature, sea level rise, glacial retreat, and warming of the oceans – all phenomena which have negative consequences on the environment, on human health and, in the long run, on the economy, because resources start to fall short.

Evidence produced by NASA shows shocking numbers for all these phenomena.  In a graph showing the current change in temperature on a yearly basis relative to the average temperature of the period between 1951 and 1980, researchers have reported that in 2017, the registered rise was 0.9° C. What is even scarier is that 17 of the warmest 18 years in the last 136 years have occurred since 2001, and 2016 was the warmest on record.

All this makes it mandatory for countries to urgently address the issue, as tackling climate change would be beneficial for individuals’ health, for the environment and for the economy.

The Paris Agreement

In 2015, countries from all over the world met with the aim to set up a common strategy and tackle the effects of climate change. The parties came together at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where they defined a set of targets, agreeing that they would fight climate change by limiting global temperature rise below 2° C in the long term, and committing to pursue efforts to keep it even below 1.5° C. To ensure the efficiency of this approach, countries have agreed on setting up financial inducements, a new technology framework, and capacity building strategies to support developing countries in facing this challenge. The framework defines a system where countries fund the common project through nationally determined contributions.

The Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016 and, up to this date, 176 countries have signed it. In 2017, the United States, under incumbent President Donald Trump, presented a notification for withdrawal, which, according to the rules, will be effective as of4 November 2020 – 4 years after its entry into force.

Signatories to the Paris Agreement are expected to hold a summit in Katowice (Poland) in December this year to discuss the above-mentioned framework and strategy, and intend to set up rules to ensure that countries monitor and report on their efforts to keep up with the Paris commitments. There are two main obstacles that need to be overcome for the global project to work. First, the rules need to be adjustable to each country’s specific economic, political and geographical framework. Second, as simple as it can be, there needs to be sufficient money.

Paving the way to Katowice

In the last months, the majority of signatories met up to define the ground rules to smoothen the works of the Katowice summit. The idea is to start drafting a financial framework, which would help defining the cooperation mechanism and the rules that are to be agreed upon in December. Knowing how much money they’ll have, countries will know how broad their scope of work can be.

As many other global projects, the Paris Agreement has seen a split between developing and developed countries. There is a common feeling surrounding the talks that wealthier and more advanced countries need to step up their game and financially support developing countries in pursuing the goals set out in Paris. This feeling results from the general belief that developed countries have gained economic prosperity by exploiting a large share of the global natural resources – mostly in the territory of developing countries – and by producing the largest share of pollution. As a result, they are perceived as being primarily responsible for the consequences of global warming for which developing countries are paying the highest price.

The EU energy strategy

EU Member States already met in 2007 to define a set of common targets for its energy strategy, adopted by legislation in 2009. The result of these talks was the 2020 package through which the Union committed to reducing greenhouse gas emission by 20% compared to 1990 levels, deliver 20% of the EU energy from renewables, and improve energy efficiency by 20%. The above-mentioned package was amended in 2014, when EU Member States agreed on upgrading the targets. This time, the European Union set up its own strategy and its own goals for 2030 with the aim to develop a more competitive, secure and sustainable energy system and improve its position on the global market. Among other commitments, Member States pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to the levels of 1990, increase the share of renewable energy consumption to 27%, and to reach a 27% target in energy efficiency.

An attempt to upgrade the targets

All goals are to be reached by the Union as a whole; there are no nationally defined targets within this framework. Recently, some Member States and the European Parliament have pitched the idea to raise the Union’s 2030 targets. While many countries seem to be willing to raise the energy efficiency target to 30% and maintain the renewable energy consumption at 27%, a smaller group is supporting the idea to raise both targets to 30%. Even more ambitious is the European Parliament, which has pushed to raise both targets to 35%.

According to an analysis published by the European Commission, raising targets up to 30% would bring several benefits to Member States, related both to the environment and the economy. In other words, in the Parliament’s view, as renewable energy is becoming more and more cost effective, Member States should adjust their ambitions and exploit the full potential of modern technologies.

There are Member States, like Poland and Romania, that still heavily rely on their coal production. For them, decarbonizing the economy would require a consistent work on infrastructures and the transfer of jobs to the sectors of solar and wind energy. Others, like Bulgaria and Croatia, met their 2020 goals already n 2015. As these examples show, the main issue is that each country has its own way to adjust to this new paradigm.

Progress or deadlock?

The situation is still facing a deadlock. In the second half of May, the Council, the Parliament and the Commission held a meeting to discuss the way forward to possibly wrap up a deal quickly, as the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU is coming to an end in June. Talks are set to run until the end of the month.

What the three parties are mostly discussing is whether the final proposal should be binding for Member States. The issue sees the Council and the Parliament on opposite sides as the former has pushed a non-binding proposal, while the later claims that the binding nature is non-negotiable. On top of this, the three institutions are discussing whether transportations should be included among the sectors which form a baseline for energy savings calculations, a hot point as this sector usually registers an increase in emissions. A meeting following these negotiations will be held June 11, when Member States’ energy ministers will convene.

These developments have highlighted once again all the difficulties which characterize the bloc’s decision-making process. Transforming the EU Member States’ economies in greener ones is one of the main priorities but boosting targets with no thought-through strategy could prove to be highly ineffective. Member States and European institutions should develop a comprehensive strategy, adjustable to the different economic set ups of each country.

An opening for the EU

With China being the number one polluter, burning more coal than the rest of the world combined and producing more than 25% of global warming gases (more than the EU and US emissions combined); with the US pulling out of the deal under Donald Trump’s administration; with developing countries relying on prosperous states for guidance and funding, the EU has the chance to establish itself as a leading actor in the negotiations, leading global climate action. However, much of what will happen in Katowice in December depends on what outcome the EU’s internal talks produce: the EU has the opportunity to make itself relevant as the main testimonial of climate action, but it first needs to resolve its internal disputes. To start with, the EU could advise countries which might undergo a consistent change in their economic system to adapt to the new energy targets, a role which it would perform outside of its borders too if it was to lead global talks on climate action one day.

Author: Ljuba Ferrario

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