Written by Richard Freedman in cooperation with Gregor Erbach,
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the world. The European Union has been in the vanguard of those pushing to tackle climate change and worked towards an ambitious agreement at the Paris Summit. Indeed, The Paris Agreement of 12 December 2015 by the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was a significant step forward.
The main objectives of the global agreement are:
- ‘holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’,
- ‘increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development’, and
- ‘making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development’.
Although decarbonisation is not explicitly mentioned as an objective, ‘all Parties should strive to formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies’.
Post-2020 reform of the EU Emissions Trading System
One of the ways the EU is tackling climate change is via the EU Emissions Trading System which is a key element of EU climate policy. In line with the internationally agreed objective of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the EU has set targets for reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and decarbonising the economy. The long-term objective for 2050, agreed by the European Council in 2009, is an 80-95% reduction in GHG emissions compared to 1990. In the medium term, the EU aims to reduce GHG emissions by 20% by 2020, and by 40% by 2030. The new proposal aims to introduce a new limit on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the ETS sector to achieve the EU climate targets for 2030, new rules for addressing carbon leakage, and provisions for funding innovation and modernisation in the energy sector. It encourages Member States to compensate for indirect carbon costs. In combination with the Market Stability Reserve agreed in May 2015, the proposed reform sets out the EU ETS rules for the period up to 2030, giving greater certainty to industry and to investors.
Energy mix and climate change
In a European Parliament resolution of December 2015, MEPs point out that development of renewable energy sources is essential to the Energy Union, taking into consideration energy costs. Members underline the crucial role of renewables in the EU in attaining energy security and political and economic independence by reducing the need for energy imports. Parliament underlines the crucial role of renewables in improving air quality and creating jobs and growth and MEPs believe that renewables deliver secure, sustainable, competitive and affordable energy and play an important role in pursuing Europe’s leadership in a green economy and in developing new industries and technologies.
Members say that the current power market design should be more dynamic and flexible in order to integrate variable energy sources into the market and draw attention to the fact that the production costs of renewables have considerably dropped in recent years. The European Parliament stresses the importance of developing cross-border infrastructure and of enhancing research and innovation in developing smarter energy grids and new energy storage solutions as well as flexible generation technologies for the integration of renewables.
Societal implications of decarbonisation
The European Parliament also stresses that the transition to a competitive and sustainable low-carbon economy offers significant opportunities in terms of new jobs, innovation, growth, and lower commercial and domestic energy bills. MEPs note that properly managed decarbonisation should not result in increased energy costs, energy poverty, deindustrialisation of the European economy or rises in unemployment.
MEPs underline the importance of actively involving social partners in addressing the social impact of the transition towards a sustainable Energy Union and stresses that the EU requires EU-wide and, at the same time, market-based and technology-neutral policies that take into account all relevant legislation and the relevant EU targets, and deliver on them at the lowest cost to society.
Negative greenhouse gas emissions and new technologies?
Most of the climate stabilisation scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assume the use of negative emission technologies. There are many potential technologies already in use or being developed ranging from forestation to bio-energy with carbon capture and storage to enhanced weathering and mineral carbonation to name just a few. However announcements of revolutionary breakthroughs should be taken with a grain of salt, keeping in mind that the new technologies might not scale up from laboratory experiments to industrial scale deployment, and that costs may be high and hard to reduce.
Have your say at the European Youth Event 2016
Tackling climate change is complex but most would agree necessary. At the European Youth Event 2016 in Strasbourg on 20 and 21 May there will be an opportunity to have your say on which approaches could and should be embraced to ensure our planet is passed in healthy condition to the next generations.