09 December 2004
Two MEPs discuss the progress made so far by the EU in tackling climate change on an international level
Crucial steps have been taken, but the Commission needs to be more determined, says Karl-Heinz Florenz
The EU has played a crucial role in promoting the Kyoto Protocol for the past ten years. Kyoto will soon be enacted after Russia´s decision to ratify. I am pleased about the acknowledgement in the United Nations of this effort, as mentioned by Klaus Töpfer during his visit to the European Parliament´s environment committee on 29 November. Nonetheless, it is already clear that targets agreed upon in 1994 will be insufficient to combat climate change effectively. The reduction targets for Kyoto´s first period somehow already belong to the past and we have to look to the future, concentrating on the second period 2008-12. Without doubt, this second period will be central to the COP 10 meeting in Buenos Aires this month.
To me, the Kyoto Protocol is a success, although I am aware of its shortcomings and of our own difficulties in achieving the EU burden-sharing targets in nearly all member states.
The success is owed to the fact that we took a crucial step towards shaping a common or even global awareness about climate change and its threatening effects to mankind. In 1994 the developed world assumed a responsibility for the environmental effects caused by their economies. To me, this possibly represents the most important aspect of the Kyoto agreement – although we all know that some heavy polluters have another opinion.
I do not want to enter into the debate on how to convince the US to ratify Kyoto, although I am fully aware that it is necessary. But it would be wrong to measure further EU climate action exclusively against whether or not the US will join in. I believe that on climate change issues the EU should concentrate instead on establishing deeper contacts with individually more progressive states within the US, such as California or Massachusetts. Transfer of knowledge and technologies are key elements to promoting sustainability.
On the broader issue of actions against climate change, for each possible measure we have to answer only one question: how costly is this concrete action today and what costs will be avoided in the future as a result of this action reducing the impact on the climate? This, it seems to me, should be our guideline for the next period in which I hope we avoid further scholastically motivated debates about whether or nor climate change is a reality.
We should continue our approach to countries such as China, India or the African continent. The EU and European industry have to establish deeper relations with their public and private sectors to promote clean and sophisticated technologies.
Our own reduction targets are ambitious, so we should start considering the inclusion of other sectors in our efforts. Future emissions from the transport sector will be crucial. We know that automotive manufacturers do their best to lower emissions through reduced petrol consumption. But reliable growth forecasts on vehicle numbers suggest the cumulative effect will surpass all efforts being done at the level of individual cars.
Commercial road transport of goods will be a target when it comes to the next Kyoto period.
The same situation can be found with air transport. I support efforts to include air traffic in emissions trading schemes, providing that no complementary burden such as taxes will be introduced.
Finally, the Commission has to be more determined. I strongly regret that although European emissions trading will start in a few weeks some member states have not delivered their allocation plans. Using market instruments for environmental purposes is a key to sustainable growth. The Commission should be highly sensitive that the same market rules apply to all participants. A clear step towards sanctions should be considered in case of non-delivery so as to have fair competition.
German centre-right MEP Karl-Heinz Florenz is chairman of Parliament´s committee on the environment, public health and food safety.
Market incentives to quickly develop new technology would help save the planet, argues Satu Hassi
A report on the impacts of a warming Arctic, published last month, gives us the first warning signals of how the climate is changing.
In my country, Finland, where five million people live above the 60th latitude, Spring months have warmed up by 2°C. Anyone living in Finland can notice the change. Satellite pictures available on the web pages of NASA show a shocking shrinking of the ice cover on the Arctic Ocean. The volume of the Arctic sea ice has decreased by 50% over the last decades. It is possible that the Arctic´s Summertime sea ice will disappear completely during this century.
My fear is that most people do not understand some basic facts about climate change. Firstly that the Kyoto Protocol is only the first step in the effort of curbing emissions. It is a minor step compared to the next steps that are needed, if we really want to limit the global warming to 2°C, the goal set by the EU. Secondly that some change in the climate is unavoidable because of the emissions that humankind has already released into the atmosphere. The Arctic area is going to warm up by 4-7°C even if the emissions are reduced markedly compared to the business as usual. Although most forecasts are given for this century, climate change will not stop in 2100. The warming of the planet will continue, as well as the rising of the sea level.
Scientists have told us that during this century the planet will warm from 1.5-6°C. If the increase in temperatures even approaches the worst-case scenario, warming will continue for several centuries and the sea level will rise, perhaps not just for centuries but for thousands of years. In the worst-case scenario given by the scientists the sea level may rise 90 centimetres by the year 2100.
If this is the case, coastal cities will face severe difficulties. The sea level will continue to rise, maybe by one more metre by 2200, and a third metre by 2300. Most of our big cities will turn to underwater archaeological sites: Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Hamburg, St Petersburg, Venice, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Lima, Dar es Salaam, Djakarta, Shanghai, Tokyo…
But what are we going to do after the Kyoto commitment period, after 2012? The sad fact is that nobody knows. We only know that to limit the global warming to 2°C, the global emissions must peak in the next two decades and fall rapidly after that. By the year 2050 half of the current emissions should be cut. But so far scientists and NGOs have presented models on how to share this effort between countries.
We cannot save the planet by the effort of the industrialized countries alone. But the developing countries have a good argument to resist the emissions ceilings for them: their emissions per capita are a fraction of ours. In China for example the emissions per capita are 20% and in India 10% of the emissions of the “old” EU-15. These countries have the right to develop their economies. What is the model that can be accepted by both, the developing countries and us?
Personally I think that the only models that are fair for developing countries are models which approach the “climate equity” principle: equal emission rights for each human being living in this world. This would mean very rapid emission reduction in the industrialized world.
I think the world still has a chance. What we need are changes in technology. As a person with a background in engineering, I am convinced that it is possible to improve energy efficiency and develop technology using renewable energy sources as rapidly as needed. But this will only happen if the market incentives are st
rong enough. We already have numerous technical solutions and every year even better solutions are invented.
It is in the hands of the political decision-makers to create the strong market incentive which encourages investment in the existing clean energy technology and that way accelerate the development of new technology which we need to save our planet.
Finnish Greeen MEP Satu Hassi is a vice-chair of Parliament´s committee on the environment, public health and food safety.