The planet needs EU leadership in climate policy
31st January 2005, Parliament Magazine
The message of science on climate seems to turn more and more challenging. A couple of years ago it seemed that it is enough to globally cut 2/3 of the 1990 emissions by 2100 in order to prevent irreversible climate change and large scale damage for our societies, economies and ecosystems. Recently I have listened to experts saying that we have no more than 50 years to do that, and the industrialized countries have to cut emissions by 80 % by 2050. Instead of stabilizing the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere to 550 ppm (parts per million), we must be able to limit it to 400 ppm. Today we are already in 380 ppm, 40 % above the pre industrial level – and probably the highest level during the whole existence of our species, Homo Sapiens.
It is clear that we have no time to just sit and wait. We need determined action without delay in order to save our civilization.
Unfortunately the climate conference in Buenos Aires in December 2004 did not deliver very much. But something became absolutely clear for the delegation of the European Parliament there. The rest of the world is looking at us. They are looking at how we meet our Kyoto target. They follow with keen interest our climate measures, especially carbon dioxide emissions trading. And they also wait for our initiatives on the post Kyoto or post 2012 targets and regime.
We met the energy minister of New Zealand who told that the country is run by and large with renewable energy, the main challenge is to reduce methane emissions from sheep and cattle. New Zealand is also interested in joining the EU emissions trading. We also met Ken Colburn representing NESCAUM, North-eastern States for Coordinated Air Use Management. Several US states have taken decisions on state level climate action. The north-eastern states are introducing a regional CO2 emissions trading scheme and also they are interested in joining EU CO2 emission trading.
Kyoto Protocol would not exist without EU leadership, without the fact that in December 1997 EU went to Kyoto with a concrete offer: How much are we ready to cut our own emissions. The negotiations on detailed rules for Kyoto Protocol would have failed without strong EU determination in 2001. Without EU leadership it is unlikely that the necessary global emission reduction commitments are agreed.
What is this EU leadership today in practice? We already have agreed that we want to limit the global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre industrial level. We must be able to translate this to emissions reduction targets, both global and European. The European Parliament said in our resolution in January that for industrialized countries this means emissions reductions of at least 30 % by 2020 and 60-80 % by 2050. The Council should also have the courage to say this message of science.
For the credibility of global climate policy it is crucial that the EU meet our Kyoto target, emissions reduction with 8 % by 2008-2012. But we must also have the courage to set more concrete targets for time after 2012. Emissions reductions with at least 30 % by 2020 mean 2,5 % reduction per year between 2010 and 2020. Reductions with 60-80% by 2050 mean yearly emission reduction with 1,5 % between 2020 and 2050.
The recent report by the International Climate Change Taskforce lead by MP Stephen Byers from UK and senator Olympia Snowe from US published in end of January was the most recent news that remembered us of the urgency of climate action.
The task ahead of us seems huge. But we already have so many examples of emission reductions which seemed impossible but turned out to be realistic. Cutting the ozone depleting emissions or ”freons” and sulphur dioxide emissions causing acid rain are famous examples. I myself have a background in engineering. I believe that engineers are able to create the intelligent solutions needed to save us from disastrous climate change, if we political decision makers give the right signals to the market.