22nd Mar 2018


EU’s 2030 climate plans based on flawed analysis

  • The European Commission unveiled its greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030 in January (Photo: Marina and Enrique)

Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nation's Secretary General, was in Brussels last week to champion the urgency of action on climate change.

I enjoyed his stories about dealing with frostbite on a trip to the Greenland icecap, and discovering that lifejackets are standard issue in the Kiribati islands (where the maximum altitude is 3 metres).

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But I didn't think much of his enthusiasm for the EU's climate and energy plans for 2030.

“President Barroso proposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent [by 2030]", Ban Ki-Moon said, referring to the head of the European Commission. "I strongly support this".

He went on to urge EU member states to officially adopt the European Commission’s proposal as soon as possible. But would Ban Ki-Moon – or anyone – support 40 percent with full understanding of what it means?

The commission calls 40 percent by 2030 “ambitious” and “in line with climate science”. It is not.

Seven years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommended that developed countries cut their emissions by 25-40% by 2020, increasing to 80-95% by 2050.

The commission has taken the low end of that outdated trajectory and adjusted it for 2030. The truth is that 40 percent cuts equal a fifty-fifty chance or worse of exceeding the critical threshold of 2°C of global warming. And that’s without taking into account the latest IPCC analysis, which urges even tougher action on climate change.

So much for the commission’s regard for climate science. But if you challenge commission officials on the inadequate level of action, they say we must be realistic and think about the economic impacts. “Forty percent is the most cost-efficient scenario,” they claim. This too is nonsense.

It turns out the commission assumed artificially high risks and costs for energy efficiency in its modelling of options for 2030. This made the 40 percent scenario (which has relatively little energy efficiency) look cheaper than other more ambitious scenarios.

Officials working on the dossier have also indicated that the commission only looked at the costs, not the balance of the costs and benefits, of each scenario.

For example, health benefits due to reduced air pollution were not taken into account. The economic impacts of climate change – such as flooding and loss of food production – were not even modelled. This also helped make 40 percent look like the cheapest option.

Most damning of all, the commission’s background analysis cites research from Cambridge Econometrics (a consultancy), which estimates that the 40 percent scenario would result in negative GDP impacts.

By contrast, the research shows that more ambitious emissions cuts and binding targets for renewables and energy efficiency would increase the EU’s GDP (see p81-82 of the 2030 impact assessment). These findings were ignored.

Why would the commission do this?

Senior officials lecture me that 40 percent is the best the EU can do in today's political climate. “You need to get real”, said one. President Barroso – and many commission people working on the dossier – are disgracefully defeatist.

They would rather propose a weak 40 percent target, which they think member states are more likely to support, than fight for action on the scale genuinely needed.

And they’re quite plainly prepared to be selective with the truth to justify 40 percent.

Ban Ki-Moon would hopefully re-think his strategy if he knew all this. The problem is that, for now, he wants the EU to adopt an official position on 2030 as soon as possible.

He hopes this will inspire other big emitters – China, the US – to come up with targets of their own, in time to broker an international deal at the Paris climate summit next year.

This approach only makes sense if the EU's position is up to the task. Whatever the EU does on climate change is seen as the gold standard – other big emitters will almost certainly aim lower.

So unless the EU adopts a much higher target than the commission's pitifully weak 40 percent, the result will be a chain reaction of even weaker commitments from other countries.

This could cost us the fight on climate change.

The writer is climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe

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