On Wednesday the European Commission will release its plans to share out the EU’s 40% by 2030 greenhouse gas target among the 28 member states. The Commission will claim its proposal is ambitious, but everyone in Brussels knows this is not true, writes Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth Europe. European policymakers need to come clean and admit the EU is not doing enough. What would help is that they stop presenting climate policy to the public – and themselves – as a cost and start underlining its benefits.
Here is what will happen with EU climate policy. On 20 July the European Commission will present its climate plans, boast that the EU is a climate leader and claim that the 40% emissions reduction target is in line with science. Most member states will then do all they can to water it down, shrugging off counter pressure from the (more ambitious) European Parliament.
If I sound cynical it is because I am. The truth is there is nothing ambitious about the EU’s greenhouse gas target. When it was agreed two years ago, we were told it was in line with the international commitment to limit global warming to no more than 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Then, earlier this year, the Commission claimed the 40% target is compatible with the Paris Agreement, which requires signatories to limit temperature increases to ‘well below’ 2°C and to aim for 1.5°C. Actually, if you cross reference Commission and United Nations data, you’ll see the EU’s target assumes a 2-2.4°C temperature increase. In other words, we’re being conned.
I haven’t met a single Commission or member state official who’ll say (off the record) that the 40% emissions target is sufficient
I wished the scam showed up more. The problem is that the numbers themselves – and the jargon of climate action – are technical and hard to follow. But they’re chillingly real for all that. Maybe it is grandiloquent to say this, but our future is at stake. Things have to change.
What can be done? The first and most important step is to stop being in denial. I haven’t met a single Commission or member state official who’ll say (off the record) that the 40% emissions target is sufficient. One very senior decision maker confessed that the Paris agreement has made the EU’s climate plans ‘meaningless’. But these same people are planning to go out and spin the public on Wednesday with their claims that they’re being ambitious. The first step is for them to admit that more needs to be done. Climate change is a planetary scale problem, nobody expects a quick fix. But we all have to start by being honest about the challenge. As they say, words won’t fool a melting glacier.
The other priority is to be much more explicit about the benefits of climate action and the costs of inaction. The Commission, like most member states, does a terrible job at this. Traditionally, it compares the investment requirements of more ambitious plans with business as usual scenarios and recommends the cheapest option. For obvious reasons this is generally the lowest level of ambition (more details here). Incredibly, the Commission doesn’t even factor in estimates of the costs of climate damages.
Commission and member state decision makers see climate action as a huge cost and balk at paying the bill
Meanwhile, the huge benefits of doing more – safeguarding our environment, biodiversity, food production, insurance cost savings to list the most obvious – are side-lined. Taken as a whole (there are significant exceptions, fortunately), Commission and member state decision makers see climate action as a huge cost and balk at paying the bill. It’s much simpler for them to pretend current plans are adequate. Coming clean, saying things as they really are, will have an extremely positive impact on the EU’s climate plans. It will force us all to come up with a solution which genuinely matches the problem.
Brook Riley (@pzbrookriley) is energy and climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.