META looks at five measures that can help Europe tackle climate change as the world braces for increasing extreme weather events.
Like we’ve seen over the summer, From Greece to Sweden, record temperatures can bring Europe to its knees.
The heatwaves have been linked to devastating wildfires and deaths across the continent, with scientists now warning that climate change has made such extreme weather events twice as likely.
While heatwaves have always struck Europe, they are now striking at times and in places never seen before, said Dr Robert Vautar from the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences.
“Day after day, year after year, we see climate change unfolding,” he said. “We are not taking the right measures at the moment – we are discovering climate change instead of doing something about it.”
This week, META takes a look at five measures to tackle climate change in Europe and at progress made so far to advance this agenda.
Cut energy waste
Energy efficiency and renewable energy targets can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, as agreed in the 2015 Paris climate deal.
The EU has recently agreed an energy efficiency target of 32.5% and a renewables target of 32% to be achieved by 2030. But experts say that the energy efficiency target falls short of the 40% target that would represent the most cost-effective route to delivering the Paris Agreement.
EU officials and governments also agreed to include a revision clause by 2023.
Roland Joebstl, an energy expert at the European Environmental Bureau, said that the higher efficiency target is merely a door-opener for higher ambition in 2023. He said:
“Europe must do more on energy efficiency to protect citizens from harmful climate change. We count on the climate frontrunners to stick to their commitments in five years.”
But it’s not just about targets. When we make products that do the same job using less energy, we also contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The European Commission estimates that use of energy efficiency labels and ecodesign requirements for products such as fridges and TVs can lead to energy savings of around 165 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) in the EU. That’s roughly equivalent to the annual primary energy consumption of Italy and represents a potential 7% reduction in carbon emissions.
The problem? The decision making-process in this area is too slow and poor enforcement across EU countries risks undermining these policies, campaigners said.
One of the most important steps Europe can take to combat climate change is to require manufacturers to produce more efficient vehicles, planes and ships.
Road transport contributes to one-fifth of the EU’s total emissions of CO2, while aviation is responsible for an estimated 4.9% of man-made global warming.
Last year, the European Commission put forward draft laws requiring CO2 emissions from new cars to fall by 30% between 2021 and 2030;
But green group Transport & Environment said that this covers less than a third of the road transport emission cuts that are needed by 2030. They pushed for CO2 standards of 45% reduction for cars and 40% for vans in 2030, with mandatory targets in 2025, as well as a faster uptake of electric vehicles within the EU.
Meanwhile, the world’s aviation authorities continue to show minimal climate ambition in our skies, with campaigners urging the EU to take lead and end tax exemptions and subsidies to the aviation sector.
Europe Beyond coal
In 2015, 18% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions came from just 284 coal power plants.
While many EU countries already have plans to phase out coal, which is also responsible for over 20 thousand premature deaths a year, some have still no strategy in place.
With around 48 gigawatt of open coal capacity, Germany is one of the worst offenders, said Europe Beyond Coal – a coalition of NGOs monitoring progress on coal phase out. As a result the country is currently unable to meet its 2020 climate targets, although the new government agreed to put in place an end date for coal power.
Many countries still funnel public money to the owners of polluting coal plants through so-called “capacity payments”, which ensure there is enough electricity available to the grid at all times.
However, campaigners argue these systems are simply being used as back-door subsidies to prolong the life of uncompetitive coal plants.
The EU is currently discussing new rules for how capacity payments will be allowed to work in the future.
If anyone has cause for concern about this summer’s extraordinary weather it’s the farmers that produce our food, with crop failure and drought posing serious problems across the continent.
But as well as being on the frontline of the impact of climate change, our food and farming system is also exacerbating climate change itself.
Over 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from the farm sector. 30% of the planet’s land mass is now taken up by crops grown solely to feed livestock. New research shows that even the most sustainable beef and dairy producers have a more damaging impact on our environment than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal producers.
And EU policies — in particular the Common Agricultural Policy — have played a major role in developing this climate-unfriendly model of farming. There is mounting evidence that the CAP’s current direct payments system has been a failure for the climate and the environment (as well as on public health, society and the economy).
But the CAP is about to undergo a major reform and the Commission published much-anticipated proposals for the new policy this June. These proposals kick-start a political to-and-fro between the different EU institutions and EU governments before a final decision is made on what the next EU farm policy will look like. The new laws will come into effect across the bloc in 2020.
However, environmental NGOs warn that while Commissioner Hogan has boasted about the proposal’s ‘increase in climate expenditure’, it would in fact allow EU countries to count any payments made to farmers that respect minimum sustainability standards towards reaching the climate goal. To boot there would be no dissuasive sanctions for not meeting the policy’s environmental and climate objectives.
Campaigners fear this ‘business as usual approach’ could lead to a race to the bottom on environmental standards as countries would have little incentive to link their farm payments to environmental protection as doing so would put farmers in their country at a negative competitive advantage.
Forests cover a whopping 42% of the EU’s land surface and how to account for the carbon dioxide absorbed by trees when calculating climate emissions has long been a tricky task. Experts describe this as ‘LULUCF’, shorthand for the impact land use, land use change and forestry have on the climate.
The ability of trees to store carbon dioxide and stop it being released into the atmosphere is arguably one of the planet’s greatest weapons against global warming. Changing patterns of land use such as too much clearing of crops to grow animal feed or crops for bioenergy can therefore be disastrous for the climate.
But when it comes to considering the impact land use, land use change and forestry have on the climate, environmental NGOs warn of the dangers of ‘creative carbon accounting’.
And in April this year, the European Parliament signed off on new climate rules which experts at the NGO Fern say will allow for greenhouse gases emitted as a result of global transport and huge levels of meat consumption, for example, to be effectively ‘hidden’ by the carbon absorbed by forests in some cases.
Even though negotiations on LULUCF are done and dusted, FERN says that there are other ways to protect forests, including an ambitious 2050 Decarbonisation Strategy. They also call for forested countries such as Estonia, Finland, Sweden and France to overhaul their forest policies and protect them against destruction to meet the growing demand of the bioeconomy.