2030 Climate targets: a missed opportunity?

On 22th January, the European Commission released a proposal for new 2030 climate targets. This framework should help leading the way to keep global warming within safe limits.

© European Union, 2014

© European Union, 2014

Tic tac tic tac, Europe is running out of time to reach its 2020 climate objectives (20% Greenhouse gas reduction from 1990 levels, 20% share of renewable energy, 20% improvement in energy efficiency). Yet, the European Commission already released new targets for 2030. This framework will continue the process engaged by the Europe2020 climate goals. These new targets are a 40% reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions and a share of 27% of renewable in the energy mix. Energy efficiency will be further discussed.

For Greenpeace, these 2030 targets are not ambitious enough, as Joris Den Blanken, EU Climate policy director explains it: “By 2020 we might already get to 24% of renewable, so if you only go for 27% for 2030 it’s not enough. We advocate a target of 45%. But there are reports indicating that we could actually reach 50%.”

Another issue denounced by Greenpeace is the fact that after 2020, the renewable goal will not be binding for Member States anymore, but only at the EU level. “That will create a lot of uncertainty for investors in green energy over the next years, says Mr Den Blanken. We think it’s a step back in terms of clean energy investments”

Christian Egenhofer, Head of the Energy and Climate research programme at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) tempers this position: “What we have in this framework is what is possible, politically. What is really needed to deal with climate change is investment, because it is linked to growth and competitiveness. If there is no investment, there is no economic activity, no job creation, and people get even less interested in climate change. The question is whether these targets are big enough or too much. If you have too ambitious targets, you might have too high costs also. Which undermines your investments. But if you are not ambitious enough, nothing much is happening.”

A missed opportunity?

This framework also raises concerns about EU international leadership in climate change. In 2015, at the Paris climate conference, a new international agreement which will deal with climate change beyond 2020, is supposed to be adopted. This agreement should bring together the current patchwork of binding and non-binding arrangements into a single regime.

Since the EU took the initiative of this agreement, it was expected to send a strong signal to the international community regarding climate objectives. But for Joris Den Blanken, Europe has failed to do so: “The EU should have proposed a position that can drive actions from other countries. And this position is not strong enough to set that example and to drive negotiations towards an ambitious climate agreement for 2015.”

Christian Egenhofer, also has his doubts: “The main objective is obviously to save the climate. Europe has 11% of the world’s GHG emissions. Will this 2030 framework trigger the event by the others? Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t see any signs that it will prompt any reaction by other countries.”

The road to 2050

Yet a proper target is important to pave the way to 2050. The Commission plans on a GHG reduction of 80% to 95% below 1990 levels by then, in order to keep global warming at a safe limit of 2°C.

Again, in regard to the 2050 goal, experts disagree on whether the 2030 objectives are sufficient or not. For Mr Egenhofer: “If we want to get to at least 80% of reduction in 2050, 40% in 2030 is a reasonable target. We should not forget why we are doing this. If we don’t reduce the CO2 emissions by 2050, people as well as the economies most likely will suffer. We talk about very significant impacts, which have costs and are irreversible at a certain point.”

Mr Den Blanken is more critical: “With a 40% reduction target by 2030, we can easily reach the 80% by 2050. But not the 95%. And since the climate system is very sensitive, I think we should not go for the lower leg but for the highest one. To have more certainty that we can keep global warming within safe levels. So Europe must keep the way to 95% emission cuts open. Which means that for 2030 we need to have much more ambitious targets. Around 55% reduction.”

The economic aspect has to be considered as well. The cost of non-adapting to climate change is estimated to reach at least €100 billion a year by 2020 for the EU as a whole. The cost of taking action is estimated at 1% of world’s gross domestic product, where the cost of failing to act is put between 5% and 20% of global GDP.

In its early February plenary session, the European Parliament called for 30% renewable and a 40% target for energy efficiency, both binding for Members States. The Commission’s proposal will be discussed by the European Council at its spring meeting on 20 and 21 March. In January, eight Member States sent a letter to the Commission asking for a reinforced renewable target. Which means this week’s discussions could be intense.

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