Photo: Flickr.com/JohnK CC BY-NC-ND
In its White Paper on climate and energy, presented on 22 January, the EU Commission declares that it wants to see cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 40 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels (see page 22). At the same time it proposes scrapping national targets for renewable energy and not imposing specific targets for energy efficiency. Reference is made to the member states’ right to determine their own energy mix.
Experience shows that overall objectives are rarely sufficient to translate ambitions into action. A notable example is carbon dioxide emissions from cars. The EU declared its first targets in the early 1990s, but it was only when automakers were faced with actual legal requirements that reductions in emissions really occurred. And they came about without killing the European automotive industry, which was an often-mentioned threat before the rules were introduced.
So in the case of EU climate policy it is not very likely that member states will actually achieve the required emission reductions in the energy sector unless there are also specific targets for renewables and efficiency.
There is a saying that “what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts”. If member states are not willing to take on specific emissions reductions targets in the energy sector, measures will have to be taken elsewhere. This is evident from the impact assessment accompanying the White
Paper. In the scenarios with more ambitious policies for renewable energy and energy efficiency, less effort is needed in other sectors to achieve the overall 40 per cent reduction target, and vice versa.
For example, non-CO2 emissions from agriculture need only be cut by 19 per cent between 2005 and 2030 in the scenario with an ambitious energy policy, but by 28 per cent without one. So when member states claim “the right to determine their own energy mix”, are they aware that this actually may imply an increase in their climate ambitions for agriculture by 50 per cent?
Clearly, such reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are possible – the calculations in the impact assessment are based solely on what can be achieved by technical solutions, such as adapting the feed for ruminants. But it also mentions the potential for reductions through behavioural change, such as changes in our diet. It has been estimated that the introduction of policies that encourage healthier food choices could reduce GHG emissions from agriculture by approximately eight per cent (AN4/12).
Finally it should be noted that the proposed reduction of 40 per cent by 2030 is far from enough to safely reach the target of staying below 2°C warming, and totally insufficient to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C. With this knowledge, it may appear unjustified to offset emission reductions in different sectors against each other. We should rather ask ourselves how we can ensure a clear framework with ambitious and explicit targets, preferably at both sectoral and national levels, to implement the emission reductions that are necessary for our common future.