Last week the European Commission (EC), the EU’s executive body, released its assessment of the implications of the Paris Agreement on global climate action. The contents of this document are alarmingly inadequate.
The EU led the celebrations in Paris and heralded the agreement as one that could save the world from runaway climate change. Now the EC seems to want to gut the Paris Agreement before it's even been signed.
The Commission says that the EU's target of 40% emissions cuts by 2030 is “ambitious” and “in line with science”. It claims “Paris vindicates the EU's approach”, adding that the EU will only consider “progressively more ambitious action for the period beyond 2030”, even in light of new science on 'the implications of a 1.5C goal'.
This is dismissive of climate science, which says the world has drastically cut emissions, and quickly, and the EU’s global responsibilities as a major producer and consumer of fossil fuel energy and the world's largest single market.
The EU has a target of 80-95% emissions cuts by 2050 which comes from the 2007 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. Cuts of 40% by 2030 jeopardise that long-term target.
A 80-95% 2050 target is consistent with a global 2-2.4C temperature increase. The 40% by 2030 target is not in line with the Paris Agreement goal of global temperatures “well below 2C”, far less 1.5C.
Taking into account its historical responsibility as well as its potential to act, Europe remains a long way from committing to its fair share of the global effort on climate change.
All this, and it's not even a hundred days since the Paris Agreement was triumphantly feted. What on earth is going on? The main problem seems to be the Commission's inward-looking reluctance to provoke sceptical countries like Poland. It’s about as defeatist as you can get.
Fortunately, many European member state governments have questioned the Commission’s position. Countries such as Germany, Austria and Portugal are making it clear that the EU needs to raise the bar on climate action, and that the current targets do not fulfil Europe’s responsibilities or potential.
As the Austrian environment minister put it: “I’m missing the oomph in the Commission’s proposal. We mustn’t let ambition droop”. Now we have to hope these governments will lobby the executive to change its position, if only so that the blame for undermining Paris doesn't land on their shoulders.
They should bear in mind how EU climate action is perceived beyond her borders – in both developed and developing countries. Here is how climate advocates outside Europe are reacting:
Ultimately the Paris Agreement is strong on aspiration and weak on detail. For the EU to not be totally disingenuous when it goes to the signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement in New York next month it needs to be ready to increase its climate targets. And crucially it needs to speed-up the transition of its energy system to deliver them.