Monday

22nd Apr 2019

EU summit to accept urgency of climate action – but no measures planned

EU leaders are expected to acknowledge the importance of a new United Nations report on climate change at their summit in Brussels on Thursday (18 October) - but are likely to hold off on drawing any conclusions about what the report means to their ambition level.

A draft text which the 28 leaders of EU governments are expected to sign off on said that they have "taken note of the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report", which came out earlier this month.

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  • EU leaders at this week's summit are more preoccupied with Brexit and migration than with climate change (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The IPCC report looked at what would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5C instead of 2C, compared to the pre-industrial average temperature. Global warming currently stands at about a 1C increase.

The draft text, seen by EUobserver, said that the IPCC report "unequivocally confirms the negative impacts of climate change, including its conclusions indicating that global emission reductions in all sectors are crucial and that further action is needed in mitigation and adaptation, notably to reach the temperature goal as set out by the Paris Agreement".

It was included in the formal conclusions of the summit – drafts of which are always prepared by lower level diplomats in advance – at the initiative of France and Poland.

But these two are an unlikely pair of partners on the issue.

France is often advocating more ambitious climate action – although behind closed doors it has also shown willingness to accept pragmatic compromises – while Poland is known in EU circles as putting the brakes on climate action.

Poland remains a heavy coal-user, which is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels contributing to climate change.

France was host to the UN summit in 2015 where a historic climate deal was signed. Meanwhile, Poland will host this year's UN summit, to be held in Katowice in December.

The draft text to be formalised on Thursday also has a section referring to that meeting, the so-called 24th of the Conference of the Parties (COP24).

"This COP24 must result in the adoption of ambitious and comprehensive implementing rules of the Paris Agreement and the outcome of the Talanoa Dialogue should be a commitment for all Parties to reflect on their levels of ambition and inform the preparations of all Parties' nationally determined contributions (NDCs) pursuant to Article 4 of the Paris Agreement," the text said.

It also said that the leaders would endorse a text adopted earlier this month by environment ministers in Luxembourg.

Those ministers said that they were "deeply concerned by the new evidence on the negative impacts of climate change" which the IPCC report confirmed.

"In this context it is a matter of extreme urgency to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty," EU ministers said.

They also recognised "that emission reductions in all sectors, transition in energy, urban, land and industrial systems and changes in human behaviour are crucial to limit global warming", and that further action was needed.

No further action?

Despite these acknowledgements, EU leaders are not expected to take further action at Thursday's summit.

The focus will be more on migration, security, the future of the eurozone and Italy's budget.

In his invitation letter, European Council president Donald Tusk – who chairs EU summits – wrote that leaders "should also address ... global issues, in particular the fight against climate change ahead of COP 24 in Katowice".

But one diplomatic EU source said that the debate may be rather short.

"We might not have enough time to thoroughly discuss climate change," said the source.

Yet lack of time is precisely the problem the world faces when it comes to tackling climate change.

The IPCC scientists looked at scenarios needed to limit global warming to 1.5C, and concluded that it "would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems".

They said it was an unprecedented task, but that the differences in impact on human suffering, animal extinction levels and the environment between 1.5C and 2C are substantial.

A diplomatic source said that some member states wanted "more ambitious language" in Thursday's EU text, but that the trade-off of keeping all EU countries on board was to stick to what was agreed.

Some central and eastern EU member states are afraid that if the EU sets too ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, economic competitors outside the EU may take advantage of that.

Others argue that the EU should set a higher ambition to be an example to the world.

The ministerial declaration signed in Luxembourg indicated that EU countries would first wait for the European Commission to publish a strategy for long-term greenhouse gas reductions, before increasing their ambitions.

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