Europe must step up its game to reach Paris climate goals

Climate action| Global transition

Business as usual is not good enough anymore. For the EU to stay at the top of the class on climate action, it urgently needs to review its targets and boost its post-2020 efforts, writes Wendel Trio.

This op-ed was first published on Euractiv 19 October 2016

Wendel Trio is the director of Climate Action Network Europe.

Many of us thought the EU would not be able to overcome internal wrangling and ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change this year. Luckily, we were proved wrong. With the help of international pressure, Europe proved that it can work together and show unity when it is dangerous to delay. The decision to fast-track its ratification process helped in reaching the threshold for entry into force. This gives us reason to celebrate. At least for the moment.

We all know that ratification is only the first step in making the Paris Agreement a reality. What matters most is the implementation. And scientists tell us that if we are serious about the commitments made in Paris we must do much more, much faster. Hurricane Matthew´s trail of destruction across the Caribbean is a reminder that the world is not yet doing enough to tackle the causes and impacts of climate change.

The long-term goals of the Paris Agreement, to pursue efforts to keep global warming to 1.5°C and reach net zero emissions in the second half of the century, call for radical reform of climate policies in all countries. The deal also recognises that current pledges for both the targets covered by the Paris Agreement (post-2020 action) and the critical period of the next few years when we need additional efforts (pre-2020 action), are nowhere near as ambitious as required to reach those goals.

Still, almost a year after the COP21 in Paris, the EU has shown little appetite to put in place a process to ensure a timely review of its inadequate 2030 climate targets or to adjust its policies to deliver on agreed pre-2020 action. The EU must recognise that being a signatory to the Paris Agreement creates a new obligation that overrules the targets agreed by EU leaders in October 2014. EU leaders must show consistency and honesty and tackle the gap between their plans and the action that is needed for them to take on a fair share of the responsibility for the Paris objectives.

Enhanced action before 2020 and a review of post-2020 targets are essential to live up to the objectives of the Paris Agreement. When countries gather for the next UN climate summit in Marrakesh (COP22) in November, it is important that the discussion on these most crucial issues moves swiftly forward. The EU is going to overshoot its 2020 climate target, likely coming close to a 30% reduction. This might sound like a great achievement. But member states prefer to use this overshoot to elude their post-2020 commitments rather than contribute to the necessary increase of short-term action. Since the 2030 target is to reduce emissions by “at least 40%”, the overshoot means that the EU is not planning to do much more in the coming decade. If the bloc is serious about real climate action, it must not come empty handed to these discussions in Marrakesh.

First of all, the EU needs to bring something concrete to the table with regards to ensuring further emission cuts before 2020. Announcing the cancellation of current surplus emission allowances in the Emissions Trading Scheme would be a perfect way to so.

Secondly, the EU needs to get its act together and bring a concrete plan for the review of the inadequate 2030 target to Marrakesh. This should happen by the 2018 stock take at the latest.The plan should already now include a commitment to have the 2030 targets revised by EU heads of state and government prior to the 2018 facilitative dialogue.

Lastly, the Paris Agreement only does good for the climate if it is translated into real action at home. This global call for action comes at a time when most of the EU’s climate and energy legislation, including the Emission Trading System, the Effort Sharing Regulation, the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Renewable Energy Directive, is due to be reformed. Besides ensuring that these legislative files are as stringent as possible from the start, it is crucial that they all include a review clause to allow for the effective scaling-up of ambition in each of these legislative initiatives once the headline greenhouse gas emission reduction target is increased. This will avoid having to re-open and discuss all the different pieces of legislation over again. Such a review clause will provide an effective way to increase targets over time and close the gap on what must be done to avoid dangerous and irreversible climate change.

Europe is at a crossroads. With the rest of the world catching up and even running ahead, business as usual no longer means being a leader on climate action. Delay scaling up ambition, and the EU will end up swimming against the global tide. With all eyes now turning to Marrakesh, the Union must show the world that it is ready to ramp up its action and make far more serious policy reforms than we have so far witnessed.