Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

Will spirit of 'Paris' return to EU climate debate?

  • Canete (l) talking to French environment minister Royal in Paris, last December (Photo: European Commission)

At the climate conference in Paris last December, the European Union's lead negotiator, Miguel Arias Canete, appeared energised and fully in his element.

On the final day, hours before the world's countries adopted the Paris Agreement, those hanging around the EU's pavillion could feel an optimistic buzz about the decision about to be taken. But there was also a sense of duty, as expressed by Canete after the deal was approved.

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“Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we have to act,” he said.

Almost three months later, back in Brussels, the question is if the EU needs to raise its ambition.

This week there was disappointment among climate activists over an European Commission policy paper that lacked concrete mention of new measures.

The paper, published on Wednesday (2 March), said the Paris deal was a “historically significant landmark in the global fight against climate change”.

It reminded of the “aspirational goal of 1.5°C ... agreed to drive greater ambition”.

How to stay below 1.5°C?

The Paris negotiators agreed that beyond making sure average temperature does not rise above 2°C, they would also do their best to make sure it would not go above 1.5°C.

The environmentalists however noted that the paper contained only measures that had previously already been announced, and which followed targets set for 2030 by EU government leaders in an October 2014 meeting.

“In a paper released today, the commission failed to recommend a review of the EU’s 2030 carbon target in light of the Paris goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C,” said Greenpeace in a press release.

“The EU’s target to cut carbon emissions by 40 per cent (compared to 1990 levels) is based on an objective to limit temperature rise to 2°C,” Greenpeace added.

“We're shocked EU decision makers are daring to claim current emission reductions targets are adequate, and are ruling out the possibility of increased action,” said Friends of the Earth

The NGOs are calling on EU environment ministers, meeting in Brussels on Friday (4 March) to ask for additional measures.

“EU countries need to demonstrate that the EU’s so-called climate ‘high ambition’ was a sound pledge, not just a soundbite,” said WWF.

Dutch paper

The groups may have found an ally in the country chairing Friday's meeting - the Netherlands.

Ahead of the ministerial, the Dutch EU presidency distributed a memorandum among EU countries, seen by this website.

That paper called to mind that the Paris deal's five-year “stocktake” also required the EU to come up with more ambitious plans.

“Parties with 2030 targets, such as the EU, are invited to communicate or update their contribution, and to do it every five years thereafter,” the paper noted.

“All Parties’ new contributions will represent progression relative to previous contributions in terms of ambition. If the "well below 2°C" goal is to remain achievable, the first review cycle must result in substantial additional commitments. The EU and its member states will also need to be prepared for this first ambition cycle.”

The Dutch paper also noted that the EU and national governments need to start preparing a strategy for 2050.

When EU leaders agreed the 2030 climate targets, they also agreed that EU countries would review these targets following the Paris agreement.

The review clause was included to satisfy eastern European countries that were afraid that a failed Paris deal would leave the EU doing much more than its competitors, but it now is a tool for those that want to increase the climate targets.

Friday morning, Canete told journalists he wanted to implement the 2030 targets first, before thinking of new targets. He noted that the current targets are already by far "the most ambitious" of all commitments agreed under Paris.

"For the moment we have the most ambitious commitment," he said.

The EU commissioner also noted that the 2014 summit during which the targets were agreed "was a very difficult council".

"It took lots of effort to reach agreement on our targets," Canete added.

Combined with the content of the commission's paper, his comments show that the initiative for increased ambition would have to come from national governments.

EU and 195 countries adopt Paris climate accord

Deal cements new bottom-up approach which involves pledges by every UN state to reduce greenhouse emissions, as well as a review mechanism to jack up ambition every five years.

EU rushing to ratify climate agreement

Environment ministers will try to agree this week to speed up the process to sign up to the Paris agreement. Otherwise it would not be present at the table of the signatories at a conference in November.

What will Brexit mean for climate action in EU and UK?

The UK is leaving the EU after playing a key role in climate action - just as COP26 comes to Glasgow. With so many policy negotiations ahead, a split between London and Brussels post-Brexit could undermine the 2050 emissions-neutrality goal.

Timmermans: EU climate law will 'discipline' rogue states

The first EU-wide climate law will be a "disciplining" exercise to implement the Green Deal - although the Polish climate minister Michal Kurtyka warned the EU Commission about the social cost of delivering the green transition.

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