Disappointingly, in last week’s informal meeting to discuss the Copenhagen outcome, Environment Ministers in the EU failed to move any further forward and are still playing the same old record: “We may increase our climate targets but others have to do more first.”
This tired old tune has been doing the rounds since 2008 when the EU first hit on its cunning plan to set itself a target but then offer up a higher one if other countries were prepared to do the same. The problem is they are never very clear exactly what they want from other countries, how many countries they mean or precisely what numbers they want them to agree to. The lack of precision seems to imply that they themselves do not know what they want. It is very tempting to see this proposition as nothing more than a clever ruse to hide their lack of appetite for genuine leadership.
They should not be allowed to continue along this cowardly path a moment longer. A lot has happened since 2008. Countries have increased their targets, changes in government in Japan and Australia have led to more ambition, the arrival of the Democrats in the Whitehouse led to the US offering up a target, and, for the first time, developing countries, who are not expected to agree targets, are coming forward with their own too. Some like Brazil have already set them out in domestic legislation. If the EU sticks to its very weak 20% target then it is effectively ignoring all of these achievements in the run up to Copenhagen.
Emissions in the EU have also fallen dramatically. The effect of the recession saw emissions tumbling throughout 2008 and 2009. This has dramatically reduced the distance between current emissions levels and the future target, and also led to a large amount of hot air being created in the EU’s flagship emissions trading scheme, making hitting targets even easier for EU’s businesses.
The wait for possibly a decision to be made at future UN meetings in Bonn or Mexico is too long. The industries operating under the EU’s cap and trade policy, which provides the EU with the easiest way to meet their targets, need to be told what is expected of them. And given how close the EU is to hitting the 20% target already, the move to 30% is critical to supporting a healthy carbon price and maintaining investor confidence in emissions reduction projects.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the EU’s position is the fact that they continue to put out statements about the importance of taking action to keep world temperatures from rising 2 degrees and complaining that targets are currently not in the range to meet that goal, but then still state that they are not prepared to move their own target. As the third most polluting block of countries in the world today and the biggest historic emitter over time, the EU’s is one of most important targets in this equation and absolutely critical to averting climate disaster.
The most likely explanation for all the dilly-dallying is that industry lobbying has taken its toll on our political leaders’ desire to do something real about climate change. Already last week a letter went in to Commissioner Barroso from the EU’s chemical industry lobby group CEFIC, stating that the targets should stay at 20%. This is typical of the kind of special interest lobbying which puts vested interests and protection of profits ahead of the bigger picture, which in this case is the future of society. In reality, the chemical companies of Europe are faring very well in the EU’s emissions trading scheme, many of them have very generous growth targets and they are further profiting by buying in cheap overseas credits and either banking or selling their EU permits.
Some countries have thankfully realised that leadership means standing up for what you believe in, in spite of this lobbying. It is very welcome to see the UK, France, Belgium and Holland doing what they can to move things forward at the EU level. The laggards appear to be Italy and Poland and it is not yet clear where Germany really sits on the question. Clearly more needs to be done in these countries to increase the political pressure on leaders to act. We will soon have our campaign action into German and hope to do the same soon for Italy and Poland.
The January 31st deadline set under the Copenhagen Accord still sets an important test for EU leadership, if they fail to show any movement at all, those countries who have moved their positions since 2008, and all the most vulnerable countries, must be strong and outspoken in their criticism of the EU’s continued prevarication. The hypocritical nature of their complaint that the 2 degrees target is at risk because people are not prepared to commit to action, while continuing not to commit to action, has to be exposed and action must be forthcoming. Not to act means 3 billion tonnes more emissions in the atmosphere and right now that’s the last thing the world needs, especially when it could be so easily prevented.
To lend your voice to the call for action from the EU [please sign our letter to EU leaders](http://sandbag.org.uk/notdoneyet “”).