Rhein on Energy and Climate

Insufficient Copenhagen reduction pledges a danger for the planet

In view of to containing the rise of global temperaturesglobal temperatures and climate change within acceptable limits of maximum 2 centigrade humanity will have to reduce its green house gas emissions by half before 2050; and the developed countries must bear the major burden of this reduction. They are responsible for the .accumulation of green house gases throughout the 20th century, which is still the main driving force behind climate change.

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The developed countries had agreed as early as June 2007, on the occasion of their G8 Summit Meeting in Heiligendammeilig to a reduction of their green house gas emissions by 80 (!) until 2050 compared to 1990. But there has never been any concrete follow-up! It is no surprise that the pledge resurfaced at Copenhagen as a major new concession by developed countries. Developed countries have to reduce their emissions by 80 percent, compared to the Kyoto reference year of 1990.

This is the widely agreed scientific consensus, which should serve as a benchmark for the Copenhagen negotiations. The developed countries including the USA seem ready to accept such a target. They should in any event take bigger commitments than the emerging countries in view of their predominant responsibility for the green house gases accumulated in the atmosphere during the 20th century.

Setting a target for 2050 is not enough! To be credible, it must be accompanied by three conditions:

First, developed countries must define a reductiona “reduction path” up to 2050 to that datefixing intermediate. They haveto agree upon objectives for 2020, 2030 and 2040. These may differ according to countries

But this should not imply that each country marches at an identical pace, provided theey follow a convergent approach leading up to the 80 percent reduction in 2050.

Second, they must prepare 5-10 year action plans, which set out the policies for achieving their objectives.

Thirdly, they must agree to submit their action plans to a peer review under the auspices of the International Energy Agency.

Before the start of the Copenhagen Conference, the EU had announced its willingness to cut its emissions by 30 percent until 2020 if other developed countries were to reciprocate. This is most unlikely to happen, which confronts the EU with the dilemma of either going ahead with an ambitious 30 percent reduction or down- scaling its ambitions to only a 20 percent reduction.

The EU should stick to a 30 percent reduction target by 2020 if all developed countries formally committed themselves to an 80 percent reduction goal for 2050 defined their reduction paths and submitted their climate policy measures to strict monitoring of compliance by the IEA.

These are the arguments which militate for such a stance:

· Several member states like UK, Sweden, Denmark, have pronounced themselves in favour of unilateral 30 percent reduction; and several EU member countries, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, have fixed national reduction targets of 30- 40 percent. Collectively the EU should thereby be able to reduce emissions by 30 percent until 2020.

· Cutting emissions in the coming 10 years should be eased by the drop of emissions during 2008-09 and the expected low economic growth.

· Frontloading efforts during the coming 10 years will enable a more even spread of the spectacular reduction of C02 emissions that Europe will need to achieve until 2050.

The EU energy security is more fragile than that of Canada, USA or Australia. It is in its vital interest to become more independent of coal, oil and gas imports as soon a possible.

· It would be wise to anticipate a rise of fossil energy prices in the next 10 years, especially of oil and gas, and to prepare for this eventuality by boosting energy efficiency and the competitiveness of renewable energies.

The EU has a vital interest in remaining the global leader in sophisticated energy technologies. This requires major efforts in research and investment in the next 10 years.

· The EU has already adopted a 10- year action programme for reducing C02 emissions. It will only need a tightening, in particular emission quotas for the power sector and energy-intensive industries, and a multi-billion investment programme for thermal refurbishing of existing buildings. It should redirect its structural funds and EIB lending to that end.

Such an ambitious programme would have a positive impact on other countries. They will copy parts of it, as happened already in the past. Thus even if in the short term its impact on the global climate will be small because EU emissions account for less than 15 percent of global ones, in the medium term there is bound to be an imitation effect.

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This will not be easy to sell European business groups and citizens. Business groups pretend that Europe’s competitiveness will suffer a severe blow in the wake of higher energy prices that will be part and parcel of a strategy aiming at a more rapid reduction of EU green house gas emissions. Politicians should not listen to such siren calls. European competitiveness depends on the skills of its engineers and workers and no longer on electricity or gasoline prices.

And higher energy prices will give the overdue boost to eliminating existing waste of energy and raising energy efficiency.

Political leaders will have to sit down with business leaders and citizens. They need to convince everybody that we can reach a 30 percent reduction of our emissions within 10 years if our societies fully focus on this objective.

Today, European citizens understand much better what is at stake if climate change continues at the present rate. of all

To succeed, Europe needs a profound debate on the pros and cons and in particular the full support from the EP.

Brussels 09.12.09 Eberhard Rhein

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