European Union carbon emissions targets, modify
Should the EU accept that the targets it has set for reducing carbon emissions are unrealistic and damaging, and amend its plans accordingly?
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The emissions targets were dreamt up in a period of economic prosperity, when they looked tough but ...
The emissions targets were dreamt up in a period of economic prosperity, when they looked tough but affordable. Now the credit crunch is inflicting terrible damage on economies everywhere, European countries are heading for a bad recession, and the targets look like “an act of madness”, in the words of an Italian minister. Sticking to the targets will drive up the cost of energy for European business and consumers alike, bankrupting companies, raising unemployment and pushing families into poverty.
These emissions targets are demanding but they are a necessary response to the threat of climate change. Current scientific predictions are alarming and show that climate change is occurring more quickly than previous estimates. Climate change poses a much bigger threat to Europe than the financial crisis. Plants and animals will struggle to survive in their present locations, agriculture may not be able to maintain its present productivity, water supplies in Mediterranean regions may prove inadequate for the population, and tropical diseases may become common. In addition, the Stern Report for the UK government showed how economically damaging unchecked climate change could be. Many experts believe that Europe should be going for a 30% cut in emissions, not just 20%. We have to act now and we cannot afford to make the credit crunch the excuse for watering the targets down.
Acting unilaterally will be economic suicide for Europe. The targets impose huge costs on European ...
Acting unilaterally will be economic suicide for Europe. The targets impose huge costs on European companies which other countries do not yet require of their own industries. This means while Europe cripples itself with massively higher energy costs, competitors like China, America, Korea and India will be able to capture world markets. Even when the recession has passed, this will leave Europe’s industrial sector much shrunken and its people impoverished. Nor will it have helped prevent climate change, as businesses with high emissions will simply have moved or expanded their production, and so their carbon emissions, outside Europe. Only an undemocratic body like the EU could have considered imposing such pain upon the peoples of Europe – national governments must stand up for their own citizens and demand changes.
EU needs to exercise global leadership in responding to the challenge of climate change. If Europe, the most developed area of the planet and the home of the industrial revolution, cannot agree effective emissions targets, then it cannot hope to convince others to agree a successor to the Kyoto agreement. At a Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 the EU hopes to persuade Japan, the USA, China and the developing world to agree to an effective global action plan. This will probably involve other countries signing up to an enlarged version of the EU’s Emissions Trading System, but if this has been abandoned or watered down then it will remove the pressure from a reluctant USA and probably cause the talks to fail. \
Nor is this an undemocratic imposition on European states and their citizens. The targets were originally agreed by each government at a European Council in 2007, and the democratically elected EU Parliament has been closely involved in drawing up the detailed proposals.
Central and Eastern European countries need special treatment. The EU’s emissions targets treat all...
Central and Eastern European countries need special treatment. The EU’s emissions targets treat all 27 member states the same way, but this cannot be justified in practice. Former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe are still much poorer than the EU average, and are much less able to afford the changes to a low carbon economy than older EU members in western Europe. They are also still struggling with the legacy of communist rule; a coal-fired energy sector powering hugely-polluting heavy industries. The clean-up costs of communist-era environmental damage have already been huge, and these nations cannot afford even more demanding targets until their economies are closer in wealth to those of western Europe.
The targets already take the situation of Eastern European states into account and are far more demanding for richer western European states than they are for newer EU members in the east. Ireland and Denmark, for example, are expected to cut their emissions by 20% from their 2005 levels, whereas some newer member states will actually be allowed to increase their emissions. Britain is already making a separate national commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. \
The aims of the European Union in tackling climate change are admirable, but the 2020 deadline that ...
The aims of the European Union in tackling climate change are admirable, but the 2020 deadline that is being imposed is very unrealistic and should be extended. Making really serious cuts in carbon emissions requires major long-term investment in big infrastructure projects. Rebuilding national electricity grids in order to bring renewable energy from offshore wind and wave farms to urban markets will take a couple of decades. Constructing new public transport systems and low-carbon power generation capacity (e.g. nuclear plants, biomass generators, clean coal technology) will also require a longer timeframe. And progress will depend on private individuals, who will take many years to replace their cars with the low-emitting models the EU is requiring manufacturers to produce, and who will need big government incentives over many years to renovate their homes in order to make them more energy-efficient.
It is always tempting to put off to tomorrow what should be done today. Unless governments, business and consumers have a clear deadline they will put off difficult decisions about taxes, regulation and investment. The targets are achievable, not least because so much of the energy used within the EU is wasted. This means that big emissions cuts can be made quickly and cheaply by adopting more widely the most energy efficient technology and working practices that are already in use within Europe. And the beauty of the Emissions Trading Scheme is that by creating a market in carbon emissions it will push investment to those sectors where the biggest savings can be most quickly made. Meanwhile, the money raised from auctioning emissions permits (perhaps over €400 billion by 2020) can be used by member states to invest in longer-term technologies such as clean coal, carbon capture, and renewable energy, and in renovating old housing stock to make it more energy efficient.
The EU’s proposals target transport in a heavy-handed and unrealistic manner. 10% of all transport ...
The EU’s proposals target transport in a heavy-handed and unrealistic manner. 10% of all transport fuel will have to come from biofuels – which are not currently available in anything like enough quantity to meet this mandated demand. The target can only be met at great expense to ordinary drivers as the EU’s demand for biodiesel and ethanol drives up world prices. And there is great concern about biofuels’ impact upon the environment, with rainforest destroyed to grow the palm oil needed for much biofuel production, as well as on the diversion of food crops away from the hungry in developing countries into the fuel tanks of rich Europeans.\
In addition to the emissions targets, car makers have been given separate regulations requiring them to reduce emissions per kilometre from an average of 160g of CO2 to only 120g by 2012. Aviation has also been given tough targets to reduce emissions, which can only be done by buying newer aircraft at great expense. These are huge cuts to make in a very short period, especially as both carmakers and airlines will be struggling financially with the economic downturn. For consumers they will inevitably mean more expensive cars and flights.
The failure to include transport was a key weakness of earlier attempts to tackle climate change. Cars accounts for 12% of the EU’s entire carbon emissions and aviation is the fastest growing polluter, so clearly it is appropriate that they are included in future measures. And there are major advantages for every sector of industry in making an early transition to a low-carbon future. Although jobs may be lost in some traditional industries, investment in new technologies will create employment overall. And as it is inevitable that there will have to be global action against climate change, those countries which have led the way in developing new technologies will be best placed to profit from the sale of equipment and expertise to the rest of the world.
Current EU proposals require cuts across every sector of the economy and do not take account of the ...
Current EU proposals require cuts across every sector of the economy and do not take account of the case of agriculture. In some EU countries, such as Ireland, agriculture accounts for over a quarter of all emissions, almost all of which comes from the methane burped out by livestock such as cattle. Given that they cannot stop cattle digesting their food, what should countries with big agricultural sectors do? Ireland could meet the targets by getting rid of all of its livestock, but as meat and dairy products would then be imported from non-EU countries such as Brazil, this will do nothing to combat global climate change. It would be better to either exempt farming from the calculations, or to lower the targets required of states with large agricultural sectors.
The key principle of EU climate change policy is that “The Polluter Pays” – either through investment in reducing emissions to meet the targets, or by purchasing carbon permits through the ETS. Agriculture should not be any different from other sectors of the economy in this respect. And given that the Common Agricultural Policy protects Europe’s farmers from foreign competition, they should be able to pass any higher costs to consumers without fear of going out of business. Nor is it true that there is nothing farmers can do about agricultural emissions – there is plenty of room for more energy efficiency in mechanised farming. Animal waste products can be captured to produce renewable energy. Researchers are showing that changes to the feedstuff given to livestock can make significant differences to their carbon emissions. And genetic engineering of both livestock breeds and gut bacteria holds out the promise of major changes in the longer-term.
Since the original targets were drawn up by the EU in early 2007, relations between Russia and the w...
Since the original targets were drawn up by the EU in early 2007, relations between Russia and the west have worsened significantly. Moscow has attempted to bully a number of its neighbouring states, including former-Soviet EU members, and has shown itself willing to use its control of natural gas supplies as a political weapon. Central and Eastern EU members lack gas reserves of their own, and are currently dependent on their abundant coal reserves for most of their energy. The only way they can quickly meet the EU’s emissions targets would be to turn to gas (a fossil fuel, but one with lower emissions per unit of energy than coal) as a source of energy. Alternatively they could import electricity from Russian nuclear power stations (a huge new one is due to the built in Kaliningrad, bordering Poland and Lithuania). Both of these would make them dangerously dependent on Russia as an energy-supplier, with big implications for their economic and political sovereignty. For these reasons, the coal-fired power stations of countries such as Poland should be exempted from the Emissions Trading Scheme until clean-coal technology becomes viable.
Emissions targets are also a route to greater energy security. The very high fossil fuel prices of recent years themselves impose a high cost on member states, and have contributed to Russia’s greater self-confidence and international assertiveness. By developing low-carbon economies powered by renewable energy, EU countries will be enhancing their long-term security and independence. And in the short term, the EU needs concerted action to stand up to Russia, which after all has no other ready market for its oil and gas wealth. EU states should jointly secure alternative gas supplies by backing pipelines outside Russian control and building the infrastructure needed to bring liquefied gas from suppliers in the Middle East and Africa. Completing the internal market in energy will also ensure that individual countries cannot be picked off by Russian bullying.
Emissions targets are so tough that the only way to meet them without doing great economic damage to...
Emissions targets are so tough that the only way to meet them without doing great economic damage to European economies is to allow the purchase of carbon offsets from abroad. This involves funding Clean Development schemes in developing countries that will reduce their potential carbon emissions. Examples include more efficient power stations, renewable energy schemes such as solar power, and also the preservation of tropical rainforests as carbon sinks. As it is cheaper to make big cuts in potential emissions in poorer countries than in the more developed world, this is the best way to meet demanding targets in the short term. It also provides valuable investment and income for poorer states and helps to tie them into global climate change initiatives. For these reasons, the EU Parliament vote to limit use of offsets to a maximum of 8% of 2005 emissions levels should be reconsidered, especially in light of the economic downturn.
Offsets are hard to monitor – a key reason why the EU Parliament voted to limit their use. In any case, offsets are only about reducing the rate of increase of world carbon emissions; if a developing country builds a power station, even if it uses less polluting technology under an offset scheme, it still results in a net increase in global emissions. The EU must aim for an overall actual reduction if we are serious about tackling climate change. Nor will other countries respond to European pushes for an effective new international climate change convention if the EU appears unable or unwilling to make actual changes to its own economy, preferring instead to outsource the problem to the developing world.
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