This Sunday, January 31st, represents the official deadline for signatories to the Copenhagen Accord to submit their 2020 emissions targets. While UN officials have taken pains to stress this is a “soft” deadline, it is still an important milestone as countries make their first tentative steps on the global climate policy stage since COP15.
In this context it is paramount that Europe submit an unconditional target of 30% or higher to reinvigorate and normalize ambitious target setting internationally.
The Copenhagen Accord has shifted the emphasis, at least for now, on to unilateral target-setting, with states and regions carefully eyeing the submissions of the others to assess how far they dare go themselves. In light of this, real leadership consists in submitting ambitious domestic targets, which demonstrate a willingness to take significant action in the short to medium term.
At Copenhagen, Europe started to lose its voice – its authority as a leader on climate change waning after too long resting on laurels it earned years ago.
Looking back, the majority of its cuts since 1990 were delivered serendipitously by extraneous policies and events, eased considerably by hot air inherited from EU accession countries and arising from the recession. Looking forward, the distance Europe proposes to travel between now and 2020 looks meagre compared with the steeper emissions trajectories of countries like Japan or the US.
In short, Europe’s “double target” for 2020 of 20%/30% is obsolete. Since 2008 when this was set out, both developed and developing countries have tabled new targets and, more tellingly, the recession has made the 30% cut some £100 billion cheaper to achieve than we’d expected a 20% target to be.
Europe’s murmurings at Copenhagen were drowned out by two competing discourses: on one side were the brash, loud voices of the most powerful – the US and China – prolific emitters reluctant to cede any authority to international institutions; on the other side was the still small voice of conscience represented by those states on the front lines of climate change negotiating their very survival as nations – groups like the Alliance of Small Island States and the Vulnerable 11.
If Europe is to reclaim influence in the UN process, it will derive from being a major economy with moral authority. The lukewarm positioning of recent months will need to be replaced with the kind of domestic targets the vulnerable nations entreat and which the science demands. 20% is not that target. As the single greatest historical emitter, 30% is the bare minimum Europe can reasonably proffer to be in line with IPCC recommendations for developed nations collectively (25-40%).
Dangling the carrot of a “conditional” 30% target has not worked. This is hardly surprising given that 20% is essentially business-as-usual for Europe, and that it was never made precisely clear what conditions would trigger the higher target.
Within Europe, a cluster of progressive countries – amongst them the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands – recognize it is time, both morally and strategically, to shift to 30%. There is push back, though, from countries like Italy and Poland, from the Commission and from industrial groups like the Alliance for Competitive European Industry. We need to drown out these regressive voices with the voice of global civil society.
To this end, Sandbag is calling on individuals and organisations to [undersign our open letter]( “”) to European Council President, Herman van Rompuy, and Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Zapatero, calling for a minimum, unconditional target of 30% as Europe’s submission to Appendix I of the Accord.
Anticipating Sunday’s deadline, we will be submitting a written copy of the letter later this week with the backing of at least 19 NGOs, and several hundred individuals. But Europe is unlikely to move straight away. That is why we intend to continue to mount pressure over coming months as our supporters grow until Europe takes on the figure it must. We hope you’ll join us.