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EU ditches climate change action for growth

New climate change targets announced by the European Union are a major step backwards and virtually end any chance of keeping global warming below 2ºC. They are the result of pressure from governments desperate for growth, whatever the cost environmentally.

Naturally, that’s not how the EU is putting it but the reaction from business on the one hand and climate change campaigners on the other says it all. EU officials talked up the agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below the 1990 level by 2030, claiming this puts Europe at the forefront of action on global warming.

But they are not fooling anyone. The Financial Times reports the announcement as a major step back from the "ambitious environmental agenda that made the EU a global green leader" adding that it is all about "the need for economic growth and industrial competitiveness".

Officials spoke excitably about a binding agreement to produce 27% of European energy from renewables by 2030. But Europe already reached 22% renewables in 2012. They are saying that in the next 17 years, Europe will achieve the same percentage increase in renewable energy that was reached in the five years from 2007 to 2011. Germany could practically reach that on its own, with its current programme of replacing nuclear with renewables.

Britain's energy and climate change minister Ed Davey fought hard to prevent even that weak ambition. He didn't want any binding agreements at all because his ConDem government has withdrawn support for renewables in favour of fracking for gas. He got his way because each country is left to work out its own renewables target.

Just to reinforce what the energy commissioner called the need for “mainstream competitiveness”, the EU – under UK pressure – has backed off from any regulation of fracking. As the Financial Times noted, the announcement “in effect gives the green light for shale exploration throughout the region”.

The Climate Action Network (CAN), a coalition of more than 120 environmental groups, said the agreement "could lock the EU into such a low level of climate action it would make keeping the EU's international pledge to stay below 2 degrees of global warming all but unattainable".

The most disgraceful response came from the UK's energy generators who want the government to use it as a basis for reducing the UK's own internal emissions target from its current 50% by 2030 level. The industry’s trade body stated:

It has been clear for a while that others in Europe have little appetite to match the UK’s binding 50% target and this announcement merely serves as confirmation. Government must ... bring the UK back in line with Europe and send a clear signal that it is committed to ensuring the UK will remain a competitive place to invest through the 2020s.

life in the bubble of unreality where corporations and states live

These targets have nothing to do with climate science. They reflect life in the bubble of unreality where corporations and states live, and where nothing matters except growth, competition and profits. Governments will not act to halt climate change because the corporations will not allow them to even if the political will existed (which it doesn’t).

Today's deal is what Europe will put on the table at international climate talks in Paris in 2015. Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for climate action, claimed: "We have made it possible for EU to play its role to the full..."

Europe's weak targets and failure to consider energy saving or even the regulation of fracking, sets the tone for a summit that will – like the previous summits – fail to act. It will become a game of "how low can you go" in capitalism’s race to the bottom on climate action.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
23 January 2014

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