Otesha goes to Malmo – and learns about climate policy

30 Dec

This is cross-posted from The Otesha Project UK blog

One sunny morning in mid-September, we packed up ourselves, the flowery palais (aka our tent) and a hula hoop, and bundled ourselves onto a train from London to Malmo, Sweden to learn stuff at the European Social Forum. Here’s what we learned about ….

EU climate policy

Don’t run away! Yes, EU Climate Policy sounds like a yawn and a half but bear with us, as the seminar was completely fascinating (although that might have something to do with Jens Holm, the speaker and a Member of the European Parliament, being a complete dreamboat. Swoon…. thud.) and very informative.

The Nitty Gritty:

This year, the European Commission proposed a new Energy and Climate Package, which (fingers crossed) will be passed next year by the EU Council in time for the crucial UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

The Energy and Climate Package is made up of 4 parts:

·      A review of the Emissions Trading System

·      Effort-sharing

·      Carbon capture and storage

·      A renewable energy target of 20% by 2020 (not including nuclear energy)

Its overall targets are to cut emissions by 20% compared to 1990 (30% if the US sign on to the international agreement) by 2020, plus 20% renewable energy.

Which brings us to our first question – do you think these targets are ambitious enough? At the talks in Bali last year, the EU agreed to a 25-40% reduction in emissions by 2020. Hmm.

So let’s tackle this bit by bit:

Emissions Trading Scheme review –

2005- 2008 saw the first phase of the Emissions Trading System which, according to Jens (swoon), hasn’t worked all that well. There was an over-allocation of emission rights to the 11,000 or so companies around the EU that are using the system. So, instead of working on the polluter pays principle, over-allocation has meant that the highest polluters have profited. At one point the price of carbon shares plummeted to zero. It has now stabilised at 20 Euros per tonne of greenhouse gas emitted, but the general feeling is that a review is still in order.

Effort-sharing  –

Everybody loves a sharing, caring type. The idea behind effort-sharing is that each member state cuts (or even increases) their emissions depending on how developed they are, to let developing countries grow while reducing overall emissions. For example, Sweden’s emissions reduction target by 2020 is 17% and Denmark’s is 20%, but countries from the former Eastern bloc can increase their emissions, allowing them to develop further.

As you can see, the pressure on richer countries is higher. But, there is a kind of loophole, called Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs) which allow richer countries to outsource their emissions reductions to developing countries. These CDMs allow a developed country (like Sweden or the UK) to set up cheaper emissions-reducing programmes in a developing country (like China or India) and then count those emissions reductions towards their own targets. This means that richer countries can continue to pollute, even while meeting their targets, and don’t necessarily have to tackle the larger scale challenges in their own countries – leaving those to a future generation (us – eek!).

On the other hand, without these Clean Development Mechanisms, many developed countries wouldn’t have signed on to an agreement at all. We’ve got the US to thank for the CDMs, it was their idea during the Kyoto negotiations, which they didn’t even sig, and now we’re lumped with it.

Carbon Capture and Storage –

There’s been a lot of chat about CCS lately, as the justification for all of the new coal-fired power stations that have been given planning permission in the UK. Do we need it? Maybe. If we are going to make the significant emissions cuts we need then perhaps we do need to get behind CCS (arguably, even nuclear). But it’s not safe, and the technology hasn’t even been developed yet! It will cost a lot of money to develop the technology, which might have been better spent on renewable energies like solar or wind power.

20% reductions by 2020 + 20% renewables  –

There are a few big issues here – firstly that 20% probs isn’t enough to save us from CLIMATE CATASTROPHE. (Ha ha. See my ‘how to communicate climate change’ page), especially when we factor in the Clean Development Mechanisms. Jens (swoon) suggests an overall target of 40% emissions reductions – 10% in developing countries and 30% in the rest of Europe.

Secondly, the 20% renewables target includes 10% from biofuels. Biofuels are a tricky subject aren’t they? They could possibly divert a lot of the world’s food supply towards making fuel and could be a large contributor towards deforestation.

Alright, so that’s kind of it in a nutshell. And as much as there are concerns about the package, it is still progress nonetheless and evidence that some global leaders are stepping up and trying to sort this climate change business out. Hoorah.

What can we do in the meantime? Put pressure on the EU Parliament and Council to pass it next year. And more good news – the package is flexible to allow each member state to take further action. So if the EU targets aren’t ambitious enough, the UK can take it further. Woop! Let’s make it happen.

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