EU Plans Steep Emissions Cuts to Avert Climate Disaster

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 10, 2007 (ENS) - The European Commission today intensified its campaign to limit global warming with a new Energy Policy for Europe to fight climate change and boost the energy security and competitiveness of the EU's 27 member countries.

The Commission, Europe's executive branch of government, warned that if left unchecked, global warming is likely to trigger regional conflicts, poverty, famine, disease, and migration.

The Commission said to avert these disasters global warming must be held to no more than 2C above the temperature in pre-industrial times.

If temperatures rise by 2.2C, an additional 11,000 people in Europe will die prematurely within 10 years and after 2071 there would be 29,000 extra deaths a year in southern Europe and 27,000 people would die prematurely in northern Europe.

Yet, the Commission said there is a 50 percent chance that global temperatures will rise by more than 5C during this century.


England's giant Drax coal-fired power station (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
To combat the dire threat of global warming, the Commission's central proposal is that, under a future global agreement, the group of developed countries should cut their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for warming the planet to an average of 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

This target satisfies the European Environmental Bureau, EEB, an umbrella organization with 143 member environmental organizations in 31 countries.

In December, EEB called for the European Union to adopt "an unconditional EU greenhouse gas reduction target for 2020 of at least 30 percent."

The Commission said today, "Urgent action is needed to limit climate change to a manageable level and prevent serious physical and economic damage."

The EU should take the lead by committing to reduce its own emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020 a cut that should be increased to 30 percent as part of a satisfactory global agreement, the Commission said.

In the longer term, greater emission reductions will be necessary and developing countries will also have to be part of the global effort, the Commission said. Worldwide emissions will need to be cut by up to half of their 1990 levels by 2050.

Commission President Jos Manuel Barroso said, "The challenges of climate change, increasing import dependence and higher energy prices are faced by all EU members. A common European response is necessary to deliver sustainable, secure and competitive energy."


Jos Manuel Barroso of Portugal is President of the European Commission. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
The package proposed by the Commission today seeks to provide solutions based on three central pillars - a true internal energy market, accelerating the shift to low carbon energy, and energy efficiency.

"The proposals put forward by the Commission today demonstrate our commitment to leadership and a long-term vision for a new Energy Policy for Europe that responds to climate change," Barroso said. "We must act now, to shape tomorrow's world."

Achievement of these targets will require a massive growth in all three renewable energy sectors - electricity, biofuels, and heating and cooling, the Commission said.

This renewables target will be supplemented by a minimum target for biofuels of 10 percent. In addition, a 2007 renewables legislative package will include measures to facilitate the market penetration of both biofuels, and heating and cooling.

Stavros Dimas, Commissioner for the Environment said, "Climate change is one of the gravest threats to our planet. Acting against climate change is imperative."


Stavros Dimas of Greece is European Commissioner for the Environment. (Photo courtesy Office of the Commissioner)
"Today, we have agreed on a set of ambitious, but realistic targets which will support our global efforts to contain climate change and its most dire consequences," said Dimas. "I urge the rest of the developed world to follow our lead, match our reductions and accelerate progress towards an international agreement on the global emission reductions."

The European Union and most individual EU member states are legally bound by the Kyoto Protocol to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions eight percent below 1990 levels by the end of 2012.

But the Commission said today that on current energy and transport policies, rather than falling, EU emissions would increase by around five percent by 2030.

The EU's dependence on energy imports will jump from 50 percent of total EU energy consumption today to 65 percent in 2030 under current trends and policies, the Commission said.

The Kyoto Protocol is an important first step towards cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, but its targets expire in 2012 so further international action needs to be agreed for the period after that, the Commission said.

In the Commission's view the EU must adopt domestic measures to reduce its emissions further and take the lead internationally to ensure that the 2C global warming limit is respected.

But there is a greater than a 50 percent chance that global temperatures will rise during this century by more than 5C, the Commission said today, basing its predictions upon scientific reports, including the Stern Review.


Sir Nicholas Stern was the chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank from 2000 to 2003, and is now a civil servant and government economic advisor in the United Kingdom. (Photo credit unknown)
Published by British economist Sir Nicholas Stern last October at the request of the Blair Government, the Stern Review says that, "On current trends, average global temperatures will rise by 2 - 3C within the next 50 years or so. The Earth will be committed to several degrees more warming if emissions continue to grow."

This warming will have many severe impacts, Stern warned. Melting glaciers will initially increase flood risk and then strongly reduce water supplies, eventually threatening one-sixth of the worlds population.

Declining crop yields, especially in Africa, could leave hundreds of millions without the ability to produce or purchase sufficient food. At 4C and above, global food production is likely to be seriously affected.

Rising sea levels will result in tens to hundreds of millions more people flooded each year with warming of 3 or 4C, affecting Southeast Asia, small island states, and large coastal cities, such as Tokyo, New York, Cairo and London.


Sea levels rising due to global warming threaten low-lying European countries such as The Netherlands and Denmark. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
According to one estimate, by the middle of the century, 200 million people may become permanently displaced due to rising sea levels, heavier floods, and more intense droughts.

Ecosystems will be particularly vulnerable to climate change, with around 15 to 40 percent of species potentially facing extinction after only 2C of warming. And ocean acidification, a direct result of rising carbon dioxide levels, will have major effects on marine ecosystems, with possible adverse consequences on fish stocks, Stern wrote.

The damages from climate change will accelerate as the world gets warmer, the Stern Review states, with abrupt and large-scale changes in regional weather patterns such as the monsoon rains in South Asia or the El Nio phenomenon - changes that would have severe consequences for water availability and flooding in tropical regions and threaten the livelihoods of millions of people.

A number of studies suggest that the Amazon rainforest could be vulnerable to climate change. One model finds that the Amazon rainforest could be significantly, and possibly irrevocably, damaged by a warming of 2 - 3C.

The melting or collapse of ice sheets would eventually threaten land which today is home to one in every 20 people.

Commissioner for Energy Policy, Andris Piebalgs said, "If we take the right decisions now, Europe can lead the world to a new industrial revolution - the development of a low carbon economy."


European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs of Latvia (Photo courtesy Office of the Commissioner)
"Our ambition to create a working internal market, to promote a clean and efficient energy mix and to make the right choices in research and development will determine whether we lead this new scenario or we follow others," Piebalgs said.

Research is also crucial to lower the cost of clean energy and to put EU industry at the forefront of the rapidly growing low carbon technology sector. To meet these objectives, the Commission will propose a strategic European Energy Technology Plan.

The EU will also increase by at least 50 percent its annual spending on energy research for the next seven years.

Energy efficiency is the third pillar of its strategy, and the Commission emphasized its goal of saving 20 percent of total primary energy consumption by 2020.

If successful, this would mean that by 2020 the EU would use about 13 percent less energy than today, saving 100 billion euro and around 780 metric tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide each year.

The Commission proposes that the use of fuel efficient vehicles for transport be accelerated. There must be tougher standards and better labeling on appliances; improved energy performance of the EU's existing buildings and improved efficiency of heat and electricity generation, transmission and distribution.

power plant

British Nuclear Fuels' Magnox nuclear power plant at Chapelcross (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
At present, nuclear power makes up 14 percent of EU energy consumption and 30 percent of EU electricity. While greenhouse gases are not emitted by the operation of nuclear power plants, the production of enriched uranium does generate emissions of carbon dioxide, and the problems of radioactive releases and waste disposal have yet to be solved.

The Commission proposals underline that it is for each member state to decide whether or not to rely on nuclear energy.

The Commission recommends that where the level of nuclear energy in the EU is reduced, as it will be in Germany which is phasing out its nuclear power plants, it must be offset by the introduction of other low carbon energy sources. Otherwise, the Commission said, the objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions will become even more challenging.

As part of its climate proposals, the Commission would establish an environmentally safe strategy to promote the industrial use of carbon capture and storage technology.

It would strengthen and expand the EU emissions trading scheme and eventually link it with other regional emissions trading markets.

The Commission intends to limit emissions from transport through action focusing on cars, civil aviation and transport fuels.

Reducing CO2 emissions from residential and commercial buildings, and cutting emissions of the five greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide are also important, the Commission said.

The Commission will seek endorsement of these energy and climate change proposals during the Spring European Council March 8-9 in Brussels and will propose legislation in light of these discussions.