EU climate deal: 'We're still way, way off the mark'

Posted by John Sauven — 12 December 2008 at 5:42pm - Comments

This blog by Greenpeace UK exective director John Sauven first appeared on the Guardian's Comment Is Free.

As the science of climate change gets increasingly urgent, the will of Europe's political leaders to act on the climate crisis seems to be weakening by the day.

The EU climate package was meant to herald a new and unprecedented level of ambition in tackling climate change. Compared to what the science dictates, we're still way, way off the mark. The deal suffered from destructive forces within the EU representing their own country's self interests at the expense of an EU-wide deal.

Italy used the current economic crisis as an excuse to stick with its preferred option of continuing with what is, to all intents and purposes, a business-as-usual approach. Poland, with its heavy reliance on coal, fought and won exemption from incurring the full financial cost of burning coal until 2020.

More surprising though, was the extent to which Germany seems to have been instrumental in watering down this package, driven it would seem by a heavy lobbying effort from German power utilities RWE and E.ON, both of which are keen to build new coal-fired power stations not just in Germany, but in the UK too.

The climate package opens up the possibility that public subsidy could be used to build new coal-fired power stations like the plant proposed by E.ON at its site at Kingsnorth in Kent.

In other words, it may be possible that the taxpayer would actually pay E.ON to build a plant that would emit eight million tonnes of CO2 every year, over the very same period in which the science of climate change says we need to stabilise and reduce global emissions.

Not quite the example of global leadership we had in mind, and that is so sorely lacking at the UN climate negotiations coming to an end at Poznan in Poland.

The package also allows European countries to meet two-thirds of its commitments by paying countries outside the EU to reduce their emissions on their behalf.

The obligation to reduce emissions within EU borders will be minimal - potentially no more than a 5 per cent target - and sets a devastating example to the rest of the world.

There's little doubt that Poland and Germany were the villains of this piece. The German chancellor was clearly hijacked by her nation's power utilities, and was prepared to sacrifice her reputation on climate change to keep them happy.

As for the UK's behavior in Brussels, there are signs that the government listened to the conclusions of Lord Turner, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change. He made it clear that the UK should adopt a target of up to 42 per cent reductions by 2020 and that our target should be met almost entirely through reductions in the UK.

The new minister for climate change and energy Ed Miliband now has to demonstrate that unlike Germany, the UK is not in hock to corporate interests at the expense of climate action.

He could start by ruling out Kingsnorth and adopting the top end of Lord Turner's recommended target for 2020 as soon as possible.

Can I just point out two things to any potential climate change deniers reading this who have been citing the "U. S. Senate Minority Report: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims Scientists Continue to Debunk Consensus in 2008" in their defence.

1. Some of the quotes are not skeptical about the existence of global warming, but rather about the accuracy of the computer models being used given how inaccurately we know many of the parameters. However, running the models with even the most favourable (least warming) parameters, they still predict a significant global temperature rise.

2. Most of those quoted are not experts in the field (just being a scientist does not make you an expert on all things science), the most extreme case being Alan Titmarsh!!

Can I just point out two things to any potential climate change deniers reading this who have been citing the "U. S. Senate Minority Report: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims Scientists Continue to Debunk Consensus in 2008" in their defence. 1. Some of the quotes are not skeptical about the existence of global warming, but rather about the accuracy of the computer models being used given how inaccurately we know many of the parameters. However, running the models with even the most favourable (least warming) parameters, they still predict a significant global temperature rise. 2. Most of those quoted are not experts in the field (just being a scientist does not make you an expert on all things science), the most extreme case being Alan Titmarsh!!

Executive director of Greenpeace UK.

Follow Greenpeace UK