Disappointment in some quarters, relief in others – yesterday’s publication by the European Commission on moving beyond 20% greenhouse gas emission reductions was met by a mixed bag of reactions.
Heavy industries (no surprises there) along with France and Germany emerged as ‘protectors’ of jobs in traditional sectors, while environment groups and the Governments of UK, Spain and Belgium backed a commitment to slash CO2 emissions by 30% by 2020.
Notably, Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, warned that Europe could be on a path of long-term decline, affording space to the US and China to leap ahead in renewable energies. But she said the conditions are not yet right for a commitment to 30%.
“I think that in Europe we should also consider that you can risk losing jobs if you are too ambitious here, but there is also a price to pay if you stand still while your competitors move,” she said, quoted in the New York Times Green blog.
EWEA’s CEO, Christian Kjaer, said the EU is a “world leader” in wind energy, but it faces “serious competition” from the US, China, Japan, South Korea and India. “I would hate to see Europe losing out,” he said. EU officials have said China could be stalling a global deal on climate change in order to get ahead in renewable technology, the Daily Mail writes.
Niklas Hoehne from green consultancy Ecofys echoed this sentiment in saying, “if we stick with 20%, there will be fewer incentives for innovation.”
Chris Huhne, the newly appointed UK Energy and Climate Secretary urged other European countries to commit to 30% cuts: “Global climate change is the biggest challenge the world faces…that’s why we will push for the EU to demonstrate leadership by supporting an increase in the EU emissions reduction target to 30% by 2020,” he said, reported by the Times.
The cost of reducing CO2 emissions by 20% has fallen as a result of the financial crisis – from the original estimate of €70bn to €48bn today, with the leap to a 30% cut requiring just €11bn more – i.e well within our grasp, Spain’s El Pais notes.
But the financial crisis has fanned the flames in the protectionist direction too. Rainer Bruederle has asked for more time to get past the worst of the economic turmoil. “At such a moment, it is legitimate to owe oneself more time,” he said this week.
Meanwhile, others hid behind the international community’s failure to reach a deal on climate change last December in Copenhagen. Business Europe, the European business lobby, said it was “convinced that any further increase of the EU’s unilateral 20% emission reduction target at this point in time would be unlikely to convince other nations to adopt comparable targets.”
Letdown at COP15 and the financial crisis are convenient pretexts that mask over the longer term problems of climate change and staying ahead in the global technological race, in particular in renewable energies. Let’s hope the short-term protectionist mask fades away and Europe takes stronger action to maintain its climate lead.