Saturday

24th Oct 2020

EU claims climate victory but global warming goes on

  • The new global deal is insufficient, say environmentalists (Photo: Mikko Itälahti)

Following agreement on a new global climate deal in the early hours of Sunday morning (11 December), the EU was quick to congratulate itself on brokering a "historic breakthrough", but environmental groups and scientists say the deal is far from a good one.

The Durban agreement, as the compromise may well come to be known, after the South-African tourist destination where negotiators from all the world's nations had been gathering for two weeks, is in effect an agreement about plans to come to an agreement.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Under the deal, a new "legal framework" is to be negotiated among all parties to the UN climate change convention, including China, India and the US - the three biggest emitters of the planet hitherto not bound by any curb on greenhouse-gas emissions. The framework is to be in place by 2015 and operational by 2020.

Meanwhile, the Kyoto Protocol, the existing legally-binding agreement on carbon emissions reductions that expires after 2012, is to be prolonged as something of a bridging period (even though Russia, Canada and Japan have retreated, leaving the EU, Switzerland and Norway as the only signatories).

And it was agreed that rich countries would contribute to paying for poor countries' mitigation efforts by some €100 billion per year as of 2020. How this money is to be raised, however, remains unclear.

The EU had argued for such a road map and had put it forward as a condition to backing a second period of committed emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol.

"The EU’s strategy worked. When many parties said that Durban could only implement decisions taken [at earlier climate conferences], the EU wanted more ambition. And got more," said EU climate change commissioner Connie Hedegaard in a statement.

"This is a moment comparable only to, if not surpassing, the success of [the first climate conference in] 1995, which led to the creation and adoption of the Kyoto Protocol," said Polish environment minister Marcin Korolec, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Environmental groups, however, point at the fact that even if the world succeeds in cutting its greenhouse-gas emissions as foreseen in the Durban deal, global temperatures would still rise by more than two degrees - a number deemed dangerous by scientists. Above this, warmer weather would lead to rising sea levels, decreased snow cover, droughts and extreme weather events.

"Ordinary people have once again been let down by our governments. Developed nations have reneged on their promises and weakened the rules on climate action," said Sarah-Jayne Clifton, of Friends of the Earth International.

Bas Eickhout, climate scientist and representative of the Greens in the European Parliament delegation to Durban, says the deal is "clearly insufficient, given the urgent action scientists say is needed to avoid dangerous climate change."

Scientists estimate that global mean warming would reach about three-and-a-half degrees by 2100 with the current reduction proposals on the table. "They are definitely insufficient to limit temperature increase to two degrees," according to the Climate Action Tracker, a science-based watchdog.

Not only amounts and timelines were the object of heated discussion, also the way in which the burden of carbon cuts would be distributed among the world's polluters.

Details of the new climate deal have yet to be negotiated, but clear is that the principles behind the Kyoto Protocol, which divides the balance of responsibilities for dealing with climate change between rich and poor nations, will be abandoned, a development cheered by the EU's climate chief.

"We will now get a system that reflects the reality of today’s mutually interdependent world," said Hedegaard, who had argued that such principles is outdated as China has overtaken the US as the world's biggest polluter in absolute terms and other emerging countries such India and Brazil are rising fast.

Developing nations for their part, however, argue that the industrialised world is historically responsible for current greenhouse-gas levels and preventing them from using cheap energy such as that derived from coal denies them the tools used by the global north to develop.

"There are efforts to shift the climate problem to countries that have not contributed to it," said India's environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, during her closing speech.

EU seeks to renovate 35 million buildings by 2030

The European Commission unveiled the EU's "renovation wave", aimed at doubling the renovation rate of existing buildings in the decade, and creating five new 'European Bauhaus' hubs across the EU, where architects and engineers can collaborate on green projects.

EU Commission methane plan lacks binding agriculture targets

The new European Commission strategy on slashing methane emissions focuses first on obtaining better data. Critics say it is a missed opportunity to impose targets and other binding measures on agriculture, the largest single emitter.

Investigation

Hydrogen - the next battlefield

Part Two of Investigate Europe's long-form examination of the EU gas industry looks at hydrogen - touted as the clean, green, future. But with NGOs sidelined, and industry leading the push, how sustainable is it really?

MEPs ignore Commission to vote for 60% climate target

The European Parliament voted in favour of a 60-percent emissions-reduction target by 2030 in the first-ever EU climate law. MEPs also supported an interim 2040 target, and making the EU's 2050 climate-neutrality target binding for each member state.

Analysis

China's carbon pledge at UN sends 'clear message' to US

China's pledge to become carbon neutral before 2060 is "good news" for Europe, but it sends a clear message to Washington ahead of the US election - in which climate change has become a significant aspect for voters.

News in Brief

  1. UK scientists fear Brexit blow to joint EU research
  2. Greek migrant camp lockdown extended
  3. Lukashenko and 14 others in EU crosshairs
  4. EU imposes sanctions over 2015 Bundestag cyberattack
  5. Italy reignites Mont Blanc border dispute with France
  6. Commission to press Croatia on migrant 'abuse' at border
  7. Belarus opposition awarded 2020 Sakharov Prize
  8. Belgium's foreign minister in intensive care for Covid-19

Opinion

Europe has forgotten the 'farm' in 'Farm to Fork'

US secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue argues that the EU is taking an approach "more based on 'political science' than demonstrated agricultural science" in its new Farm to Fork strategy.

Green Deal

MEPs vow to fight lowering of bee-protection standards

MEPs warned on Thursday that they will once again object any proposal from the European Commission that lowers the bar for bees and other pollinators protection - since the process to renew EU bee guidance is still ongoing.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. South Caucasus death toll much worse than feared
  2. Polish court effectively bans legal abortions
  3. MEPs urge EU to be ready to dump disputed energy treaty
  4. EU commission on defensive over 'revolving doors'
  5. Why German presidency is wrong on rule of law
  6. Nato and EU silent on Turkey, despite Armenia's appeal
  7. EU tells UK to decide on Brexit as deal 'within reach'
  8. EU farming deal attacked by Green groups

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us