Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The EU has announced low emission reduction targets, a study says

Adelina Marini, December 10, 2009

A research conducted by EcoFys and ordered by the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament shows that the commitments, announced by many of the developed and developing countries are just not enough to achieve the fundamental goal of limiting global temperature below 2 degrees centigrades. The reason is that many of the countries use different approaches to measure their contribution to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Developed countries measure their contribution on the basis of overall GDP while developing and emerging economies use the GDP per capita approach because this makes their results lower. The document also analyses the reasons behind the reductions of greenhouse gas emissions till present day, especially for the EU.

EU's emissions have dropped by 10.7% for the period 1990-2008 which is due to 2 main reasons: environmental policies and the economic decline in Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Without these two factors, European emissions would now be above the level in 1990, the year used as a basis for defining future reductions.

The emissions in EU-27 have dropped for one more reason - restructuring of economies in new member states and Germany (including the former East Germany). This process led to closure of inefficient lignite power plants in Eastern Germany and a switch from coal to gas in the UK. Without this effect, current emissions would be roughly 5 percentage points higher.

The authors of the report do not exclude the effects of the global crisis. They say that the economic crisis will lead to significantly lower emissions in 2020 compared to estimates made before the crisis. This will make it possible to secure agreements on more ambitious reduction targets compared to 1990. If the current target of 20% reduction below 1990 by 2020 is not made more ambitious, the ETS may turn out to be ineffective.

While admitting that it was hard to analyse how much the emissions could have increased without these 2 reasons, the researchers note that current emissions would have dropped by 7 percentage points in 2005. This has been avoided also by increasing the share of renewable energy and combined heat and power.

The results show that the EU has reduced its emissions by 1% each year which is highly insufficient. The Union must make more ambitious commitment of at least 30% so as to help reach the overall target for developed countries of 40%by 2020. However, this means that the EU should commit to 40% reduction and not 30%.

The USA also needs to increase its efforts above those in current draft national legislation. The document does not quote any specific numbers but the announcements made so far are: in the draft, approved by the House of Representatives envisages 17% reduction by 2020, and the bill that is stuck in Congress insists on 20%. An important element of the American proposal is that it compares the target with 2005 levels and not 1990.

Russia’s pledge of reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is significantly out of line with any of the effort-sharing approaches. Japan’s 25% reduction pledge is in line with the effort-sharing approaches, when aiming at a 30% reduction of the group developed countries. For a collective 40% reduction, Japan would have to be more ambitious. The authors of the report admit that they found it hard to make any conclusions about Australia and New Zealand.

Regarding financing, the document proposes 3 approaches: the UN scale of assessments for obligatory contributions to the regular UN budget for 2007-2009 (United Nations 2006). The second is the share of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2006 and the third - the share of global GHG emissions in 2006, excluding emissions from land use, land use change and forestry.

If only developed countries are expected to contribute to public funds to mitigate climate change, the highest contribution by the USA would be 39.2% (US$39,200 million per year), which would be the case if the share of GHG emissions approach were adopted. The highest contribution by the EU-27 would be 45.1% (US$45,000 million per year) under the UN scale of assessment approach.

If all countries are taken into account, the three potential approaches to sharing the necessary public financing of climate actions would result in very different implied contributions by the EU-27. Again, the UN scale of assessments would result in the highest implied contribution by the EU, at 38.9% (US$38,900 million per year). According to the share of global GDP approach, the EU’s share would be 23% (US$23,000 million per year). Taking the share of global GHG emissions in 2006 (excluding LULUCF), the EU-27 contribution would be 13.6% (US$13,600 million per year). The EU in its climate and energy package used only GDP as differentiation criterion. This is in contradiction to the requirements of the developed countries who claim that their emissions are significantly less when the GDP per capita basis is used and not the overall GDP. If this approach is used though, it should be explicitly agreed that the emerging economies and the developing countries will receive more than they pay.

The report does not ignore the developing countries either. The so called emerging economies and the developing countries have committed to something equal to 5-15% reduction from their current emissions by 2020. This is highly insufficient because it would not help achieve the target for developing countries of 15-30% reduction of their overall emissions. Developing countries should close up their targets to those of the developed nations and enter the range of 25-40%.

There are large differences between the ambition levels of the developing countries. Brazil ranks high with its recent reduction proposal. China and India are at the lowest of the range but it is difficult reduce the growth of their emissions by the 2020s. Difficult to assess are the international targets in emissions per GDP from China and India, the authors of the report, prepared by EcoFys at order of the Greens/EFA group in the EP.

After the presentation of the report, the Finnish MEP from the Greens/EFA group Satu Hass said that the EU is coasting on statistical anomalies. "Around half the emissions reductions that have occurred in the EU to date have been the result of the collapse of former Soviet industries and the economic recession, rather than policy choices".

"The continued failure of the EU to live up to its responsibility and commit to providing a sufficient amount of financing for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries is another major shadow over the EU's position. This study makes clear that the EU share of public financing as part of a fair and sufficient climate deal would be around one-third. The EU must step up to the plate and commit to providing at least €30 billion per annum by 2020", the Dutch member of European Parliament Bas Eickhout said.

The Group of the Liberals and Democrats in the EP also called for more ambitious proposals in Copenhagen, In a statement the group recalled that it should be better if a legally binding agreement is reached.