I wish to challenge the assertion made in last week’s paper by Gordon Moffat of Eurofer that the EU’s strategy of unilateral commitments to cut greenhouse-gas emissions has failed (“By how much should the EU cut emissions?”, 21-27 January).
The claim is quite simply wrong. Past European policies in this area have had a substantial impact on international opinion and have led to important policy changes by other countries. To name just two examples, pressure exerted by the EU in UN negotiations has led to the adoption of 2020 as an internationally agreed mid-term target year and to the 2°C maximum global temperature rise around the world.
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It is wrong to underestimate the degree to which progressive policies will continue to have positive effect into the future. In the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, many leaders came forward to set out target ranges for emissions reductions by their countries. By opting now for the upper end of our range, the EU would increase pressure on other countries to do the same.
The Copenhagen summit failed for many reasons, but it is disingenuous and representative of short-term thinking to suggest that, because the Copenhagen Accord lacks ambition, the EU – as a group of major emitting economies – should not increase its commitment to curbing emissions. The ‘polluter pays’ principle is an important one in international negotiations on climate change and one that the EU has an obligation to uphold, but we must also remember that there are huge advantages ranging from energy security to job creation in shifting from a high- to a low-carbon economy.
We regularly hear arguments on carbon leakage to explain why the EU should lower its level of ambition, but if we actually look at the way the emissions trading system (ETS) has operated thus far we can see that in every year it has operated, allocations of free permits have exceeded emissions in many industries, including the iron and steel sector. This is a situation that is set to continue until 2013 and will leave many companies with surplus permits to cover their future pollution.
While it is right for policymakers to consider the unintended consequences of policy choices, rather than concentrating solely on possible downsides, it is important for us to recognise the real and positive effects of low-carbon economic growth. A letter sent last week by the European Corporate Leader’s Group, which represents large, European-based, multinational businesses, called on the European Commission to adopt the 30% target and to work for a solid global carbon price and a robust EU ETS. Such actions underline the clear business case and show that many in the business community are able to see the first-mover advantages of making the shift.
Indeed, it is this business case that is focusing the minds of the large emerging economies such as China and India, and prompting them to make huge investment in renewable energy.
It is disputable that, as Eurofer claims, China’s per-capita emissions will exceed those of the EU by 2002, but it is clear that China, as US Energy Secretary Steve Chu pointed out last year, is investing around $9 billion (€6.4bn) a month on clean energy, because it recognises that the economies of the future will be driven by low-carbon energy sources.