The EU’s Energy Commissioner has said people who think cutting Europe’s carbon emissions will make any difference to global warming are “arrogant or stupid”.
Speaking at an industry conference in Brussels a week after the European Commission proposed to cut its carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, Gunther Oettinger said he was “sceptical” about whether the target was achieveable.
While the EU looks set to comfortably meet its existing target - to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 - increasing that figure to 40 per cent during the 2020s will be far more difficult, he warned.
“It’s an ambitious compromise and I am a little bit sceptical. I have to be constructive as I am a member of the team but I’m sceptical,” he said in comments reported by EurActiv, the EU information website.
Mr Oettinger argued that the EU was only on course to meet its existing target because the economic downturn had curbed industrial output and the closure of polluting soviet-era plants in Eastern Europe.
“These were low-hanging fruits but there are no more now, so every percentage going down gets more difficult and cost-intensive,” he said, adding that the EU is responsible for just 10.6 per cent of global emissions today, a sum that would fall to 4.5 per cent in 2030 if the target was met.
“To think that with 4.5 per cent of global emissions you can save the world is not realistic. It is arrogant or stupid. We need a global commitment,” he said.
Experts agree with Mr Oettinger that even a significant reduction in emissions in Europe – and much less the UK – will not in itself make much difference to global warming. However, Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change secretary and others hailed Europe’s 40 per cent target as a crucial step towards reaching a global agreement because it made developing countries more likely to follow its lead.
However, some campaigners were disappointed that Europe did not propose a higher target than 40 per cent, with Mr Davey suggesting 50 per cent would send a better signal. Others, such as Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University, have gone even further, calling for an 80 per cent reduction by 2030 if we are to have a chance of limiting global warming to 2C – the level after which the consequences become increasingly dire.
Governments around the world have pledged to agree legally-binding targets in 2015 in a bid to limit global warming to 2C.
The EC also agreed another target last week, to generate 27 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. However, senior officials admitted that, while the target was billed as “legally binding”, it was unenforceable because it was binding on the whole bloc, rather than individual countries, meaning there was nobody to punish for failing to comply.
The measures proposed by the EC last week will now be debated by member state governments, before they can be fully accepted. The council, made up of the heads of state or government of the EU member states, will discuss the proposal in March.