A Climate for Change

October 11, 2016


By Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy, WWF European Policy Office



You are in a cinema. The screen darkens. The movie begins. You see a city like yours. There is a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder. A torrential downpour begins. Within minutes gutters are overflowing and flood waters are creeping upwards. There is panic, chaos, and noise. No-one yet knows how the film will end.

Sometimes when we talk about climate change, and the weather extremes it helps cause, we could almost be describing a Hollywood disaster movie. Yet scenes like the one above are happening all over the world already.


Currently, it’s the turn of America, battered by terrible storms. In the last few months alone we have seen deaths and destruction from flooding in countries from the China to Sudan and from typhoons across southeast Southeast Asia. Records were broken for heat and freak temperatures in Europe, the Middle East and the US. A superstorm in southern Australia. Nearly €400 billion of damage was done by climate and weather extremes in Europe alone from 1980 to 2013 .


This is not entertainment. It is not something we can sit back and watch, munching on popcorn. This is real, and we need to act urgently, otherwise this disturbed weather, and the havoc it wreaks on homes and habitats, agriculture and food growth, water scarcity and the stability of our economies, will get worse.


The Paris effect


In December 2015, a major step forward was taken when the world’s political leaders, including the EU, reached an historic deal to limit climate change at the COP21 UN climate summit in Paris. The deal - the first time all countries, richer and poorer, had committed to joint climate action - followed months of increasingly vocal support for climate action from across all sectors of society, from businesses to citizens. It showed the end of the fossil fuel era is on its way.


In Paris, world leaders agreed to “keep global temperature rise well under 2 degrees Celsius and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”. The inclusion of the 1.5 degrees target was particularly significant, as respecting it would go a long way towards limiting the worst impacts of climate change.


The Paris Agreement requires countries to submit climate plans to show how they will cut emissions. The plans are to be updated every five years, starting in 2020, and each plan must be at least as ambitious as the one before. In 2023, there will be a ‘global stocktake’ of how countries are doing on their climate plans.


The Paris Agreement also bridges the divide between richer and poorer nations, committing industrialised countries to provide US$100 billion per year in ‘climate finance’ by 2020 and setting a new and higher finance goal before 2025. This money will be used to help developing countries cut emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Emerging economies can also contribute finance, but this is voluntary.


EU action is out-of-sync


So, we have a forward-looking and binding deal which is about to come into force, and which is far more ambitious than anything ever agreed internationally until now.


The EU was pleased with its role in Paris as a “climate leader”, particularly because it helped push for the inclusion of the tougher temperature goal - 1.5 degrees - in the final text.


Yet this “climate leadership” is meaningless if the EU doesn’t strengthen its own climate and energy targets and policy for 2030 in accordance with the Paris Agreement.


So far, it has failed to do so, and is acting as though its current, weak policies are enough - a ‘business as usual’ approach which is totally inappropriate given the urgency of action required and the new international commitments


By not acting, the EU is failing to walk its talk. A Strong strong and forward-looking policy is crucial for triggering and incentivising actions to decarbonise our economies.


2030 - and beyond


The EU has 2020 climate and energy targets for emissions reductions, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. There are already targets for 2030 for both emissions reduction - “at least” 40% - and renewables - 27%. The 2030 target for energy efficiency will be proposed later this year. Both the proposed 2030 targets are unambitious, as is the EU’s stated goal for 2050, of reducing emissions by 80-95%.


This 2050 goal is not enough to help keep temperature rise well below 2 degrees, let alone under 1.5 degrees. According to the IPCC, in order to reach this goal, global CO2 emissions from the energy sector need to fall to zero by between 2040 and 2070, and “below zero” afterwards. This means that the EU needs to reach ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050 to uphold its Paris commitments. The current emissions reductions targets simply won’t cut it.


This is why 2016 and 2017 give a crucial opportunity to bring Europe’s ambition on climate in line with Paris. The overall 2030 target levels were agreed before Paris, but they are not yet law, and the way they will be reached is to be set out this year and next year through a series of proposals and negotiations. So, there is a lot to play for.


Putting a meaningful price on carbon


Emissions reductions are governed by two different pieces of EU legislation. For industrial and the energy sectors, there is the Emissions Trading System (ETS), which aims to make the polluter pay by putting a price on carbon through ‘emissions allowances’, each equivalent to one tonne of CO2, which cost money and can be auctioned on the carbon market.


However, the market price of a tonne of CO2 has never got sufficiently high to make a difference to polluters - even today it is hovering around only €5 or €6. Experts consider that in order to drive actual change, the price for carbon would have to be at least €30.

This is partly due to the economic crisis, which meant that industry was producing - and emitting - less. But it is also because a vast number of emissions allowances have been given out for free. In fact, polluting industries could be showered with the equivalent of €160 billion in free allowances between 2021 and 2030!


In order to try and fix the broken ETS, a system for ‘banking’ surplus emissions allowances was set up in 2015, but while this will help, temporarily removing some allowances is not enough to fix the problem and make the carbon price meaningful.


All surplus allowances should be taken off the market. The Member States themselves should be allowed to remove allowances from the market to compensate for climate action - for example, closing down a coal plant.


Free allowances should be given out far more sparingly, and wound down over time, so that eventually it is not possible for ETS sectors to pollute for free.


The second piece of legislation is known as the ‘Effort-Sharing Regulation’ (ESR). It covers all the sectors the ETS doesn’t - like transport, agriculture, and buildings - making 60% of EU emissions altogether. The ESR sets countries individual targets, in line with an overall 40% reduction by 2030. This needs to be increased to at least 45%, with emissions cuts increasing every five years - like the ETS. Above all, there are a number of ‘loopholes’ proposed, which could allow countries to count emissions reductions as bigger than they are: for example, if forests (which absorb carbon from the atmosphere) are counted. These loopholes must be eliminated.




‘Five steps to fixing the EU ETS’ are the five ways WWF believes the European Commission can make the proposed Emissions Trading System reform in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement and enable it to lead to a meaningful price on pollution



Up with renewable energy


One of the biggest producers of greenhouse gas emissions is coal and other fossil fuels.

The EU needs an energy system which supports clean energy - that is, renewables like wind and solar - while also allowing citizens to be involved in energy production and in charge of their consumption.

The 2030 renewable energy directive, due in December, must help the Member States exceed a 27% share of renewables in final energy consumption in 2030. Since there are to be no binding national targets, countries must at the very least be held accountable for delivering their ‘fair share’ of the target. It is important that EU countries can support renewable energy since the markets were not developed for renewable energy, but governments need clear rules on how they can do this now and in future to avoid any retrospective changes to their support. Revised power market rules, also due in December, must help more clean energy be brought onto the system.


Down with polluting fossil fuels

As renewable energy grows, it must replace polluting fossil fuels. These should be taken off the system, starting with coal, the dirtiest fuel of all. Many EU countries have already phased out coal - like Belgium - or are doing so - like the UK, but this must be sped up. Subsidies for fossil fuels - which are still at $10 million a minute for production worldwide according to the IMF - must be stopped. However, a fossil fuel phase-out requires a social and just transition. This will not happen overnight; EU funding should be provided for communities whose lives would be impacted by plant closure. Alongside a coal phase-out a limit should be put on all emissions from power plants, to ensure only the most efficient remain switched on.


‘Does coal have a role post-Paris’ is a summary of a report which discredits claims from the coal industry and several world governments that efficient coal plants are compatible with climate change. It shows that keeping any coal online at all - even with the most modern and efficient technology available, makes us fall short of the temperature targets set by the Paris Agreement. WWF concludes that governments need to end public financial support for coal immediately, and phase out all coal plants by 2035 in OECD countries and 2050 globally to avoid the worst impacts of climate change



Encouraging efficiency: the low-hanging fruit


Saving energy through energy efficiency measures is a ‘no brainer’; indeed, it is the cheapest way of reducing emissions, by lowering the use of polluting and price-volatile fossil fuel. It contributes to economic and social prosperity, boosts job creation and reduces the amount Europe spends on energy imports. It also reduces energy costs for businesses and industries, therefore making them, and the EU, more competitive. Energy efficiency also benefits European citizens by lowering energy bills and protecting homeowners from fluctuating energy prices.

In the coming weeks, the EU’s current energy efficiency and energy performance of buildings will be revised for 2030, with the 2020 non-binding efficiency target of 20% likely going up to 30% energy reductions by 2030. A better goal would be at least 40% - a level supported by the European Parliament.


Thinking long-term


While the next few months may be all about 2030, these goals make no sense if they are not seen in a longer-term context.

The Member States are required to make climate plans with a goal of net zero emissions 2050 and beyond in mind, and these should match with the 2030 EU targets. The EU must ensure national plans are high quality, detailed, comparable, informed by broad stakeholder participation and ultimately credible to investors.




‘Staying the Course: What we should do to stay on track from Paris to Marrakech’: This infographic provides a clear outline of what we need to do to ensure that we stay on the road to a climate safe future



Countdown to COP22


In a few weeks, the EU will travel to Marrakech for the first annual UN climate summit since the Paris Agreement was reached. At the moment, it has one thing to show: its fast ratification of the Agreement. This is far from enough.


The EU accounts for 12.08% of the world's emissions: by ratifying it has shown its commitment to climate action, but without the solid foundations and the strong backing of ambitious policy, fast ratification of the Paris Agreement is like a house made of straw - attractive to look at but lacking sufficient strength and substance.


The EU now has to add the bricks of ambition and the cement of action to its climate and energy policies. The EU must seize the concrete opportunities mentioned above to align its ambition with the Paris climate targets.


In addition, the EU must use the upcoming COP22 summit to kick-start the longer term strategies on climate action which are key to putting in place the right measures to win the fight against climate change.


Only then can we start to put the climate change disaster movie behind us, and embrace a safer, cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future.





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