Regional/National climate policy – 4. European Union

They are not perfect but they lead the world in climate policy.

If humanity rescues itself from dangerous – or worse, catastrophic – climate change, it will not be because of the US, or the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) or CANZ (Canada, Australia, NZ).  It will be because of the EU.

Before the defining 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the Europeans were active.

–    It was Sweden that convened the first UN environment summit, back in ’72.

–    It was European countries, before Rio and before Europe’s founding event of Maastricht that introduced, following release of the IPCC’s 1st report of 1990, specific domestic measures designed to reduce national emissions.

–    It was the EU that led the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, witnessing the shameful withdrawal of the US and Australia after agreement was reached.

–    It was the EU that formulated the first economic instrument to ensure compliance with binding Kyoto obligations.

–    It was the ‘EU-plus’ that have come in under their Kyoto-1 levels, for whatever reasons, avoiding penalties, compared with Canada’s shameless mitigation failure and withdrawal from Kyoto two weeks before the five-year period ended.

–    It was the ‘EU-plus’ that aspired to lead the Bali-Copenhagen roadmap to success, only to fall victim to strategic poker between the US and the BRICs for reasons unconnected to global climate policy.

–    It is the ‘EU-plus’ that has committed, alone, to binding legal obligations for a 2nd commitment period under Kyoto, focusing on the critical current decade (2013-20), rather than rabbiting on about Kyoto being a relic and let’s get everybody on the bus for the post-’20 global trip.

–    And it is the ‘EU-plus’ that is already doing its preparatory work to ensure that the Durban-Paris roadmap succeeds, in whatever modest global way, so that the next generation gets half a chance.

They are not perfect.  They have their internal difficulties and their own back-sliders.  They are not immune to corporate pressure.  They have made their mistakes of policy formulation and reform.  And they have critical decisions ahead in 2014.

But they take climate policy seriously – always have, still do.  They plan ahead rationally and with foresight.  If we all did the same, we would, as an international community, work our way through to some kind of global bargain that would work and just might be effective.

Under Kyoto 1, the EU accepted an 8% cut.  They established their regional bubble and created the world’s first ETS.  They came in under their threshold.  Unlike New Zealand, they did this without forestry (no RMUs, thank you) and without ‘hot air’ from Eastern Europe.

They have adopted an unconditional 2020/1990 target of 20%.  Post-Warsaw, they have started their internal dialogue for the 2030 target that is critical to the global agreement, to be agreed in Paris in 2015.  They have already committed to 80% cuts for 2050.

So what are their problems?  First, there is the scepticism over precisely what they have achieved.  It is claimed, with some accuracy, that their mitigation is achieved as a result of economic downturn from the GFC, not through policy measures.  If the aspiration is ‘green growth’ based on rising GDP with decoupled emission mitigation, they have yet to record success.  But, in fact, some countries and some sectors are claiming a degree of decoupling.

Secondly, as they are first to acknowledge, their ETS is a flawed creature.  Its main problem (as with our own) is over-supply.  They over-gifted in Phase 1, ’08 to ’12 (about 96%) and under-auctioned (4%).  And there has been some gaming.  There is a need for what they term ‘structural reform’.  A movement is gaining for its termination, though that is not about to occur.  I’ll pursue this further in another blog-post.

Thirdly, there is apprehension over its likely 2030 target – whether the EC/EU can deliver on 40%.  This is up for next March – the Europeans sleep in August, not January.

But the difference is, their policy context is on a higher plane of aspiration and achievement than elsewhere, and their internal debate is rational, without self-preening myth and self-deception.

We could learn a bit.

3 Comments Posted

  1. GDP is supposed to be a measure of goods and services produced in an economy. I say “supposed” because, yes, there are all sorts of tricks played by government departments to make that figure look better, though not all countries are as “good” at it as the US. However, assuming there is a real value of goods and services in an economy, there is no way to provide or use those goods and services without using energy. If the energy mix includes any fossil fuels (in any stage of the production of that energy) then providing goods and services will produce emissions. I’m not aware of any country that has a totally fossil fuel free energy infrastructure, including energy for goods produced in other countries but which may be included in a country’s GDP figue. Therefore, GDP cannot be decoupled from emissions. Of course, it may be possible, from time to time, to reduce the energy intensity of production or to use more energy from non-emitting infrastructure (at least in principle) but that should not be termed “decoupling” because it is not, nor will it lead to, decoupling.

  2. Actually it DOES decouple, just in the other direction. GDP can be faux and inflated for any number of reasons that make no difference to the emissions at all. No? 🙂

  3. There is no way to decouple GDP from emissions, if countries want growth, or even if they don’t. Increased efficiency isn’t decoupling. Decoupling means it is possible to run the economy without emitting greenhouse gases. It isn’t. At least not until we have a very different economy, one that would be unrecognisable from today’s economy.

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