How the EU could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on climate

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The European Commission's commendable move to aim for emission reductions of "at least 55%" by 2030 risks being completely undermined if the target also takes into account “reductions and removals” from forest growth and tree planting schemes, warns Bert Metz.

EURACTIV

The European Commission’s commendable move to aim for emission reductions of “at least 55%” by 2030 risks being completely undermined if the target also takes into account “reductions and removals” from forest growth and tree planting schemes, warns Bert Metz.

Dr. Bert Metz is a climate scientist. He is the former co-chair of the Mitigation Working Group of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (from 1997-2008) and is now a fellow at the European Climate Foundation, a non-profit group.

The EU is on the verge of make possibly its boldest act yet in tackling the climate crisis, but could also completely undermine it.

Collectively, the 27 member states are considering an increase of the 2030 target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the bloc to “at least 55%” below 1990 levels.

This would be significant indeed. The EU has already proven itself a world leader in adoption of renewable energy technologies, with many western member states achieving more than half their electricity generation from renewables increasingly regularly.

There is more to be done in the East, but the new plan from Poland for massive renewables investment, the focus of the Energy Community on the immense renewable potential of South East Europe and the increasing political, as well as climate, peril of gas are all pushing in the right direction.

The “at least 55%” target would also serve to provide certainty for Europe’s major industries, such as car and truck makers, steel, cement and chemicals, that the commitment is real and that they have the backing of the state to bet big on their own zero carbon transitions, knowing that the markets for electric cars, passive homes and commercial buildings, wind turbines, will all be growing fast and driving demand.

The job creation that a combination of the “at least 55%” target and a focus on the green revolution in the major recovery investment decisions being made right now, will be at a scale not seen since rebuilding Europe after World War II.

The massive economic harm caused by the ongoing pandemic needs to be structurally addressed, bringing back employment and social and economic fairness through investment in industries that have a future, not the dying industries of the past like coal, gas, oil and airlines.

Europe needs massive new transport infrastructure, night trains, greater urban mobility, community level projects cleaning up our cities air, bringing people closer to nature through parks and easy public transport access to the country side. Not more roads.

But all of this could so easily be undermined if the European Commission, as has been rumoured, decides to propose the “at least 55%” as a net target, taking into account “reductions and removals”.

This language, heavily lobbied for by the oil and gas industry and some member states, would allow national targets to take into account forest growth and tree planting schemes, and possible carbon removal projects using technologies.

We need to restore Europe’s forests and protect and restore or precious ecosystems, but that must be on top of greenhouse gas reductions, not instead.

That one step would turn the bold “at least 55%” target into yet another empty promise, yet another example of successful fossil-fuel green washing and would be a victory of nonsense over common-sense. The current EU target of “at least 40%” agreed in 2014 does not include sinks. Including sinks means that the new 55% target would effectively be less than 50% in the current target’s terms.

It’s simple, we have to align every decision, from the EU level to the local level, across industry, the economy, the social and political spheres, to hard reductions of the tons of greenhouse gases that are spewed into the atmosphere every day. And it has to happen fast. Don’t obscure the goal, don’t complicate the simple reality, don’t open the loopholes for those still trying to profit from looming catastrophe.

The European “at least 55%” target must be a real, absolute reduction target if it is to serve the interests of Europeans and our partners around the world.


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