Europe's climate policy: Room for improvement

From the 1st till the 12th of december, ministers of environment and climate from 190 countries, researchers and ngo-delegates gathered in the Polish city Poznán. It was the last big convention in the action plan towards the conference of Copenhagen in december 2009, where a post-Kyotoprotocol will have to be created.
The big lines of the EU climate package are not a point of discussion anymore: towards 2020, the CO2-emission will have to be reduced by 20 percent using energy-reduction, energy-efficiency and renewable energy.  It is the discussion however about the eventual partition of the load, and the different ways of  achieving the needed reduction, postponed to december due to the financial crisis.  A bad case according to many, as with this delay Europe – a selfdeclared pioneer in the international climate policy - is weakening its position at the discussion table in Poznán.

Europe’s staggering climate policy

Towards the end of the year it will have to be clear which effort the different European countries have to make for 2020, and how much percentage the different sectors, who are part of the emissions trading system – the energy sector, the chemical industry, the food industry and the aviation – will have to realise.
A hot potato at this moment is the rewarding of the emission rights.  In the recent fase of the Kyotoprotocol, firms have received those rights for free.  In the proposal that lies on the table now, companies will have to pay for the same rights from 2013 on, but that priniciple is being undermined ever more. The European industry has a fear that is that it will lose her competitive power in this case to countries rights across the border who don’t have to pay for this extra cost.  And therefore the pressure is high to reward a significant part of those rights for free.

Another point of discussion is how the reduction goals will have to be achieved: how much percentage by own efforts and how much by utilising flexible mechanisms like the Clean Development Mechanisms?  In the recent frame of 2008-2012 countries will have to realise a ‘significant’ part by own efforts, which was interpreted as at least 50%.  In the negotiations for the period 2013-2020, it was suggested to realise 55 percent by their own and a maximum of 45 percent via flexible mechanisms.  Some countries are pointing in that direction and want to realise even less than half.

A high percentage for flexible mechanisms is not a good case, as the emission trade system as well as the Clean Development Mechanisms are being criticised of not contributing to CO2-reduction on the long term.  The clearing out of this is part of the agenda in Poznán.  Points of discussion who are also at stake in Europe, are how the navigation can participate and in what way also other greenhouse gasses could be reduced by legislation.  According to Bram Claeys of BBL the stretching of these discussions is a clear lack of political leadership in the EU.  Federal Minister for Energy Paul Magnette shares this opinion.  On the seminar of Friends of Europe he claimed: ‘We are discussing here the question whether Europe can convince others with her climate policy.  But the first question is actually if Europe is convinced herself.’  

China, India and the others 

The fact that Europe travels to Poznan with such an undecided case is problematic for many reasons.  It is the Polish ministry of environment which will chair the conference, and precisely Poland has, together with Italy and the Czech Republic, severely resisted against a strong climate policy, with the argument that the financial crisis does not permit so.  Moreover in January the EU-presidency is being assigned to the president of the Czech Republic, who even questions the problem of global warming and the fact that it is caused by human activities. 
In other words, the first half of 2009 one cannot expect a performant European climate policy.  Nevertheless the WWF-report Climate change: faster, stronger, sooner, launched on the 20th of october, claims that the climate is changing even faster than the UN-climate panel first calculated.

The CO2-reduction with 20 percent that Europe premised, is undersized , thinks also climate expert Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele, vice-president of the UN-climate panel: “If Europe aims at a temperature increase of no more than 2 degrees Celsius, even in that case we should decrease the emissions before 2020 by 25 to 40 percent, compared to the emissions of 1990.  A decrease of emissions by 20 percent is not sufficient.”

The good news is that there are constructive proposals for a new agreement on the table, however from countries outside the EU.  Thus South Africa and South Korea have as the first developping countries prepared a plan with clear goals for the reduction of emissions by 2030.  At the beginning of october the Philippine government approved  a legislation for renewable energy, the Renewable Energy Act.  It wants to increase the share of renewable energy, coming from sun-, wind- and tides-energy, and from biomass or waterpower, from 0,16 to 41 percent.  In this way the country could save three billion dollars on the energy bill – money that could send 17 million children to school, build 250.000 classrooms and 135.000 health centres, feed three million families and pay for a road network of 38.000 kilometers in the rural regions.

In november 2006 the Centre for Clean Air Policy published Greenhouse Gas Mitigation in Brazil, China and India: Scenarios and Opportunities Through 2025, a report on the unilateral actions which states in question could take to reduce the CO2 emissions in their own country.  The joined emission reductions of these three countries will deliver more than the reduction of the Kyoto protocol, the reduction intentions of the EU and the expected reductions in the recent US proposals by 2015 together.

Done with Kyoto?

Seen the urgence of the climate problem and the huge slowness of the negotiations, some researchers are questioning whether the approach shouldn’t be severely changed.  Also Aviel Verbruggen, professor at the University of Antwerp and energy expert, shares this view.  In his latest book The true energy bill he pleads for a persistent CO2-tax.  But Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele fears that this is not an achievable option.  ‘Since 1990 there is an idea of a CO2-tax in Europe on the table.  But to get that through, there has to be unanimity, and that has never been likely.  It remains important to have an international approach like the Kyoto protocol, even if that process advances rather slowly.  The UN frame is the only workable international frame we possess.  Let us therefore commit fully to it.’

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