New EU carbon target is bold but ‘not enough’

Climate scientists believe deal is lacking

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EU leaders performed their usual victory lap in the early hours of this morning after they agreed the boldest target to cut carbon emissions in history, yet experts are still worried the agreed terms are not strong enough.

Despite opposition from poorer coal-dependent countries such as Poland, the 28-country bloc managed to agree a target binding each of them to a cut in carbon emissions of “at least” 40 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990.

Ed Davey, the energy secretary, hailed the deal as “a historic moment” that would “unlock billions in low carbon investment” and send a firm message to the rest of the world to shape up in the battle against climate change.

The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said the agreement was “very good news”, while his opposite number at the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, added: “It was not easy, not at all, but we managed to reach a fair decision that sets the EU on an ambitious but cost-effective climate path.”

This was an impressive political achievement in the face of fierce opposition from parts of Eastern Europe, but the agreement doesn’t go far enough, according to climate scientists.

Long before these talks, the EU set itself a goal to cut emissions by 80-95 per cent between 1990 and 2050, the amount it believes is necessary if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to 2C, beyond which its impact becomes increasingly devastating.

In this context, a much deeper cut than 40 per cent would need to be implemented by 2030, according to experts such as Jim Skea, professor at Imperial College London and a senior member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

He estimates that Europe will need to make a three-fold cut in emissions between 2030 and 2050 if it is to get back on track, because the later it leaves action, the less time it has to remedy the situation, and so the bolder it needs to be.

Meanwhile, the prospect of hitting the 2030 target has been made more difficult by a lack of concrete agreement around the 40 per cent goal.

Two subsidiary agreements – to generate 27 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2030 and to improve energy efficiency by 27 per cent over the period – are likely to cause as many problems as they solve, because of the way they have been cast.

The renewable energy target is binding – but only on the EU as a whole, meaning that individual nations are not required to play ball and raising concerns as to how the target can be enforced.

But the EU agreement could have been a lot worse, and it could potentially become significantly better, as the phrase “at least” before the 40 per cent figure leaves scope to raise the target to 50 per cent, in line with ungranted demands by the UK and Germany.

In a best-case scenario, the agreement could prompt large emitters such as India and China to respond to the EU’s lead by announcing significant emissions cuts of their own. This, in turn, could cause Europe to increase its ambition.

Unfortunately, it seems more likely that Europe hasn’t done quite enough to drive worldwide momentum in the battle against climate change.