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On the EU vision for the Paris COP

by Xavier Labandeira
Director, FSR Climate

5 June 2015


On World Environment Day and six months ahead of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) annual meeting (COP21 – Paris, December 2015), I want to pay a tribute to the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), which has been the centerpiece of European climate policies for a decade now and was recently assessed in the conference “Looking Back at Ten Years of the EU ETS: Lessons Learnt and Future Perspectives”, organised by FSR Climate and DG Climate Action in Florence. Designed to achieve EU greenhouse-gas (GHG) mitigation commitments at minimum costs, thus facilitating the implementation of (almost unilateral, so far) climate policies within the EU, the EU ETS can provide lessons for the rest of the world and thus facilitate progress in future international agreements on climate change. Hence the relevance of the system for this op-ed.

Climate change is a major challenge for humankind not only for its potentially disastrous impacts but also for the serious difficulties in dealing with it effectively. It is a global problem, with long-term effects (i.e. affecting future generations without voice today) and it is subject to uncertainties. In fact, just tackling the first issue is a daunting task: the need for international coordination motivates the UNFCCC but the differences in historical responsibilities, in mitigation at affordable costs - for very heterogeneous societies across the globe -, or in climate change impacts, among other things, explain the limited progress of international negotiations as of yet. This is particularly worrying because, following the last Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the possibility to stay below the 2ºC temperature-increase objective (as agreed at COP16 - Cancun 2010) seems out of reach unless substantial mitigation is put in place soon. Note that since 1990, the base year for the Kyoto Protocol, global GHG emissions have approximately increased by 45%, whereas EU emissions went down by approximately 20%. 

This is the setting for the EU vision for the Paris COP, where agreement on a new Protocol will be pursued. EU’s decreasing share of global GHG emissions (now less than 10%) means that its role as part of the solution is apparently diminishing, mainly due to rapid economic growth in other areas of the world, although this can be interpreted the other way round (see the first paragraph). 

Still, the EU was the first of all major GHG emitters to provide the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC, as agreed at COP20 - Lima 2014), related to the so-called 2030 framework for energy and climate policies (40% GHG reductions with respect to 1990).

This leads me to point out the intimate relationship of climate change and energy, as the EU INDC is part of a wider effort, with simultaneous EU Renewable and Energy efficiency targets. In a previous op-ed I discussed the 'forward-looking climate change policy' of the new Commission, being now evident from the EU vision for the Paris COP and other Communications of the EC that climate policies are within a wider framework where energy security and competitiveness concerns play a big role too. This is indeed related to the much-debated proposals of the EC on Energy Union.

To sum up, I think that the EU has now a pre-defined and clear position towards the Paris 2015 COP, which may facilitate a positive outcome. It aims at ambitious global mitigation (to stay within the 2ºC target) through a legally binding instrument that responds to the current emissions status, and is subject to periodic review and transparent and continuous reporting by parties. The EC Communication has also interesting, albeit sometimes superficial, reflections on adaptation, climate finance and innovation. I found quite intriguing the suggestion that the new Protocol would enter into force once 80% global emissions are covered, which may be achieved through the incorporation of only a small group of countries. Such a Protocol would deal effectively with carbon leakage but, should agreement fail in Paris, the EU will need to discuss this and other matters in view of the existing 2030 package.


Upcoming International Scientific Conference

Our Common Future under Climate Change, 7-10 July, Paris

9 July FSR Climate co-organizes the two parallel sessions:

Energy Efficiency as a Core Means to Decarbonise Demand

China’s climate policies and low-carbon innovation



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