22nd Mar 2018

Brussels urges EU to stick its neck out on climate change

  • Desertification and drought in southern Europe are some of the results expected from climate change (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission has called on the 27 EU member states to reduce by 2020 the bloc's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent compared to what they were 17 years ago. The unilateral proposal aims to set an example to the rest of the world in the fight against climate change.

"We need to accelerate the international discussions on what should follow after the end of the first Kyoto period and get down to concrete negotiations," said EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas at a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday (10 January).

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"Time is running out, if we are to avoid a disastrous climate change policy after 2012," he warned.

"To underline our determination we are therefore proposing that the European Union commits itself now unilaterally to reduce its emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020, in case there is no international agreement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions further," Mr Dimas stated.

EU countries are currently part of the international Kyoto climate change treaty and have agreed to reduce by 2012 their emissions by eight percent below 1990 levels.

The commission now wants EU member states to promote a 30 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 for developed countries, such as the US, Canada and Australia, in international negotiations.

Long, hot summers

"World temperatures have been rising for the last 11 years – ten of which have been the hottest since recording [of temperatures] began," said commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

"We need new policies to face a new reality," he said, explaining that the bloc's moves to combat climate change are closely interlinked with its energy policy.

The call for more EU and global efforts in reducing the global warming resulting from greenhouse gas emissions was announced as part of the launch of a major new energy policy for Europe on Wednesday.

Energy represents 80 percent of the polluting greenhouse gas emissions and most of them are CO2 carbon gas.

"Europe must lead the world into a post-industrial revolution leading to the development of a low-carbon economy," Mr Barroso said, adding that to achieve its climate change targets, the EU needs an integrated energy policy with a low-carbon future.

Germany, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has pledged to put climate change and energy at the top of its political agenda over the next six months, at a time when it is also holder of the G8 industrialised nations presidency.

"We will do everything we can to give Europe an ambitious agenda on these issues," chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting European Commissioners in Berlin on Tuesday (9 January), hinting also that she would be interested to take a coordinated European position on climate change to the G8 summit in June.

Twenty percent not enough

But environmentalists say 20 percent is too little too late.

"Scientific findings show that it simply won't be enough for the EU to only reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020 if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change," said Jan Kowalzig from Friends of the Earth in a statement.

"If EU governments confirm a target below 30 percent at the upcoming EU summit, it will be a punch in the face for everyone already suffering from floods or droughts," he stated.

Finnish Green MEP and vice-chairperson of the Environment Committee Satu Hassi called the commission proposal a "climate crime".

"[It is] betraying the future generations of EU citizens that will be left with the real legacy of our inaction on climate change," he said, adding that a 20 percent reduction was far from showing leadership when overwhelming scientific evidence suggests much greater global reductions are necessary.

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