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Time to lead: why the EU needs to step up its climate targets

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EU climate change

It takes a lot to act and be smart. But, sometimes, it doesn’t take a lot to be on the other side of that coin. Last week, the European Union (EU) showed us the flip side.

The EU became the world’s first major emitter of dangerous greenhouse gases (GHG) to announce its climate and energy targets for the period 2020 to 2030, when it released its targets in Brussels in late October.

The 28 country block has announced three key targets in a deal compromised by coal-fuelled Poland and a few eastern European countries:

  1. Reduce CO2-emissions by at least 40% compared to its levels in 1990
  2. Grow its renewable energy sources to at least 27% of total energy supply
  3. Reduce energy consumption by at least 27%

These targets may sound promising, but they are woefully inadequate when measured against the demands of science, which has been rolling like a loud drumbeat across the globe as the world’s leading climate science report was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Besides the actual targets – and the whole discussion that goes with these – there is another, more subtle element that cannot be overlooked. As a global leader, what the EU does has a significant impact on the rest of the world. In trade, culture, finance … even climate change actions.

A globally binding climate agreement needs to be agreed at a crucial UN climate summit in Paris in December 2015. If countries come up with weak targets, the agreement will not be sufficient to keep global warming in check.

Europe has shown its hand, and its weak response to the badgering of fossil-fuel friendly economies has just given other countries a glimmer of hope that they will get away with the same weak response to this global crisis.

But they won’t.

More than half a million people took to the streets in 165 countries in September for the world’s largest climate march. Many of these were citizens of EU member countries, demanding governments act on climate change.

So, in the run-up to the Paris summit, European leaders will have to step up their game next year, when their proposed targets will undergo scrutiny by developing countries (who are and will be impacted most by climate change) and civil society.

Two words in the agreed package are crucial in that regard: ‘at least’. They offer the EU the opportunity to increase its CO2-reduction target, and seize again its long lost leadership position in climate and energy discussions.

WWF calls on the EU to domestically reduce its CO2-emissions with at least 55% by 2030, completed with financing CO2-emissions in third countries, in order to do its fair share in the global effort to reduce emissions.

The reward for the EU for this kind of ambitious action will more jobs for their citizens, increased competitiveness, better public health and energy independence.

It’s a smart thing to do.

Jan Vandermosten is a policy officer for WWF and is based in Belgium.

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