Climate

IPCC Official Says Europe’s Planned 2030 Emission Cuts Would Be ‘Too Little Too Late’

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The Parliament of the European Union in Strasbourg, France.

Cutting Europe’s carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030 would be “too little too late” according to the vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Back in January, the European Commission — the executive body of the European Union (E.U.), which is tasked with proposing legislation among other things — proposed a new goal to cut the E.U.’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below their 1990 levels by 2030. But the target has been in heated contention since, with Eastern European countries in particular arguing it would put an unfair burden on their economies, which are less developed compared to the rest of the Continent.

On Monday, the BBC reported that Professor Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the 40 percent cut would be insufficient. His argument, in a nutshell, is that European politicians do not understand how much the Continent’s economy must change to reach the longer-term goal of cutting emissions 80 to 95 percent by 2050. Because the easiest technological changes and climate protection measures have largely already been put to use, cutting emissions only 40 percent by 2030 will leave European countries poorly positioned to close the remaining distance to the 2050 goal — effectively requiring them to cut emissions by 300 percent in just two decades.

“I don’t think many people have grasped just how huge this task is,” Skea told the BBC. “It is absolutely extraordinary and unprecedented. My guess is that 40 percent for 2030 is too little too late if we are really serious about our long-term targets.”

A spokesman for the European Union’s Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard pushed back, saying the 40 percent target for 2030 is “in line with science as it puts us right on track to meet our 2050 goal.”

Among E.U. member countries, Poland has been the most vocal critic of the 40 percent target. The country gets almost 90 percent of its electricity from coal-fired generation, is less economically advanced than its neighbors, and is anticipating a 120 percent rise in energy costs if it has to meet the target. Nor does the Polish government believe a proposal to compensate the country with revenues from Europe’s emissions trading system will bring in the necessary aid to offset the costs of the transition off fossil fuels. “We are a country in development, and that needs to be understood,” Katarzyna Kacperczyk, the undersecretary of state at Poland’s foreign ministry, told the Financial Times.

Other Eastern European countries that have joined Poland’s pushback include Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania.

The European Council will meet in Brussels on October 23 and 24 to finalize the European Union’s 2030 target, which was recently updated to include a 30 percent increase in energy efficiency along with the 40 percent reduction in emissions. The Council has no lawmaking power and can only put forward recommendations; it will be up to the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the rest of the E.U.’s lawmaking apparatus to take whatever final proposals come out of this week’s meeting and turn them into actual policy. The effort will decide what concrete commitments the E.U. as a whole can bring to the international climate negotiations that will occur in Paris in 2015.

Individual countries like Denmark, Finland and the United Kingdom have already set ambitious and legally binding targets for cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Still, this week’s meeting is largely seen as a decisive test of whether the E.U. members can forge a workable deal. Diplomats told the Financial Times that sufficient promises to subsidize increased energy costs could bring Poland and its fellow objector on board. “We are optimistic about a possible compromise,” Kacperczyk continued.

Among the other topics under debate is whether the target should be binding for all E.U. member countries. According to the BBC, Great Britain’s Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, argues that the countries “should be able to decide on their own strategies for cutting emissions without being bound by too many rules.” Professor Skea, for his part, apparently agrees with that need for flexibility. He also pointed to increasing efficiency standards as the best way to get the biggest emission reductions as fast as possible, as they would inherently remove power performing goods and services from the market — already a benefit to consumers — without creating too much political backlash.

The International Energy Agency has laid out projections for how the globe could stay under 2°C of global warming, which found that energy efficiency savings could account for as much as 40 percent of the necessary worldwide emission cuts.