Last week, we liveblogged the European Commission’s “Dialogue on Climate Change” – a townhall-style public meeting in Milan, Italy, with the Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard.
The EU has long seen itself as a global leader when it comes to tackling climate change. Member States have committed themselves to the “20-20-20” targets: cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels; improving energy efficiency in the EU by 20%; raising the share of EU energy consumption produced by renewables by 20% – all by the year 2020.
The EU was also a key player in the development of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a non-binding international treaty that seeks to “stabilize” greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, Europe was at the forefront of the push for binding emissions targets, later added to the UNFCCC in 1997 as the so-called “Kyoto Protocol”.
However, it often feels like the EU is a global leader without followers. The United States refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and Canada became the first country to formally withdraw in 2011. Furthermore, few countries apart from EU member states have actually signed up to the binding Kyoto targets, and those that have (including Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine) have threatened to follow Canada’s example and withdraw before their targets actually come into force.
More recently, prices in the EU’s flagship Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) collapsed when the European Parliament unexpectedly voted against reducing the total number of carbon allowances in an effort to tackle over-supply.
Nevertheless, at the townhall meeting in Milan last week, Commissioner Connie Hedegaard was adamant that efforts to tackle climate change should not be scaled back:
We cannot first solve the economic crisis, then solve the job crisis, then, finally, when we don’t have anything else to do, come back to the climate crisis… If we do not invest in [climate] mitigation and adaptation, then the costs will only mount. Economic costs, but also human costs… It is not a luxury to address climate change. It’s not something you only address in the ‘good times’.
However, even though Europe is working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, what about the rest of the world? Roger Helmer MEP, a member of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), thinks the EU has set itself an impossible task:
At the moment, there are something like twelve-hundred new coal-fire power stations in the pipeline around the world, including 25 in Germany. So, if we think that we need to reduce CO2 globally, I’m afraid we just have to accept that we’ve failed, it won’t happen.
More fossil fuels are being discovered, we’re finding shale gas, the Japanese are finding methane from the seabed, and the Americans are fracking vast quantities of gas. We are going to be increasing global atmospheric CO2 whatever we do. We can crucify our economies in Europe and in Britain on the alter of climate change in the hopes of making a difference but, in fact, the emissions are going up so fast in China, in India, and around the world, that we won’t make any difference.
What do YOU think? Can the EU help to prevent or reduce climate change? Or is it a global leader without followers? Even if European countries reduce their carbon emissions, will it make a difference if emissions from the rest of the world continue to grow? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.