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Europe's climate deal is a huge achievement; it's time for the rest of the world to match it

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As the latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change is released, former EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard highlights why the international community must follow Europe’s lead in acting on climate change.


Smoking industrial chimneys

When I met with my European Commission colleagues at the height of the sovereign debt crisis and told them that the EU needed new, ambitious climate goals for 2030 already now, they could have been forgiven for thinking their Climate Commissioner was being a little unrealistic. But in January this year, they gave their full support.

And last week, European leaders agreed a set of climate and energy targets for 2030 that are in line with what the Commission proposed earlier this year. The timing could not be better. This week the International Panel on Climate Change are meeting in Copenhagen to finalise the Synthesis Report of the Fifth Assessment Report, which provides policymakers with a comprehensive assessment of the risks of climate change.

So, just as the scientists are showing why we must act, European leaders have shown how we can do it. The 2030 framework sends a strong message to the rest of the world, and shows that agreeing a global deal on climate change at the UN conference in Paris next year is possible.

Why? Firstly, because the framework agreed by EU leaders is ambitious. It includes a binding target for the EU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent.

To put this in context: in 2007 we agreed a 20 per cent greenhouse gas target for 2020. Now we have doubled that target. And what is more, all the effort will be domestic, no longer allowing the EU to meet its emissions targets by financing projects abroad. Meeting this target will be no easy task; it will require a major transformation in all parts of the society with states, regions, municipalities, businesses, investors and citizens all taking part in the effort.

The 'at least 40 per cent' also puts us on a cost-efficient track to meet our 2050 goal of cutting emissions between 80 per cent and 95 per cent, which is what the EU will need to contribute to keep global warming below 2°C.

The framework also includes targets for increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency by at least 27 per cent. Even though the Commission wanted more ambition on energy efficiency, these targets are still a considerable step forward, and will help drive Europe's energy transformation.

Moreover, with the 2030 decision, we have proved that diverse national circumstances do not have to be an obstacle to agreeing a common climate goal. Some EU countries like Germany have already embarked on a renewable energy revolution while others like Poland are still much more dependent on fossil fuels for their energy needs.

That's why wealthier EU countries will continue to help others with their low carbon transitions through different solidarity mechanisms. Crucially, however, all countries will make a contribution to reaching the 40 per cent goal. If Europe can strike this balance, perhaps the world can too.

And finally, Europe has shown that it is possible to agree a deal on climate change even in a challenging economic climate. I have always said that we will never solve the economic and social crises unless we also tackle the climate crisis, and European leaders showed last week they understand this.

Just look at the facts. Currently, the EU spends €1 billion every day on importing polluting fossil fuels; and paid a total €140 billion last year to Putin's Russia. Without climate policies, we could be spending an extra 3 per cent of GDP in 2050.

The 2030 package will help us reduce our dependence on imported fuels and lower the import bill. It will also open up new economic opportunities for Europe in green industries, showing to other nations that tackling climate change and economic growth go hand in hand.

The message for the rest of the world then is clear. Europe has done its homework, and put the first ambitious commitment on the table to help reach a global deal on climate change at the UN Conference in Paris next year.

Other countries, including the United States and China, have already taken encouraging steps themselves. However, now is the time for concrete commitments that match the ambition that Europe has shown. So President Obama and President Xi: the EU has started the path to Paris, now the ball is in your court.

Connie Hedegaard was the EU’s first-ever EU Commissioner for Climate Action, serving from 2010-2014, and former Danish Minister for the Environment.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation

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