Several senior MEPs have raised the prospect of the EU deepening its long-term emission reduction goals in the light of the Paris Agreement, with one suggesting that current efforts to tackle global aviation emissions might not be enough to prevent a return to unilateral action by the bloc.
The remarks came during a webstreamed debate with EU’s climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete and France’s foreign minister and Paris Agreement figurehead Laurent Fabius at a session during the monthly meeting of the full European Parliament in Strasbourg.
DEEPER EU GOAL?
The clearest call came from MEP Kathleen van Brempt of the socialist S&D grouping, who pointed out that the Paris Agreement’s aspirational goal to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C would mean a more ambitious long-term EU target.
The EU has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to a global 2C objective and in 2007 set a 2050 aim to cut its emissions to 80-95% below 1990 levels, though since 2011 it has calibrated its policy via its Low Carbon Roadmap towards achieving the 80% mark.
“We have to admit we took the low end, we should now go to the high end and ensure 95%,” said van Brempt, adding that this would need to be done prior to the completion of the post-2020 EU ETS reform plan, which is expected to be done in early 2017.
Centre-right MEP Ian Duncan, who is steering that ETS proposal through the parliament’s environment committee, also said the Paris deal’s reference to 1.5C meant the EU’s 2050 aim “must be reconsidered”.
France’s Fabius didn’t comment on the EU’s goal, but pointed out that current national emission pledges would collectively achieve a global temperate rise of 3C above pre-industrial levels.
He stressed that the exact wording of the 1.5C goal in the Paris Agreement was different from that of the 2C goal.
The text calls for “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels”, but the pact merely agrees to “pursue efforts” to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C.
This reflects its aspirational rather than binding nature, though legal observers have given varied interpretations of the obligations it places on countries.
MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy of the Liberal ALDE group said the previous assumptions on carbon leakage in EU policies “are going to change” in the light of an agreement that covers all countries.
He asked Fabius and Arias Canete if the EU’s 2020, 2030 and 2050 goals should be altered given the 1.5C reference. Neither responded directly.
Anne-Marie Mineur and Yannick Jadot of the two environment groupings GUE and the Greens expressed concern that the Netherlands, which holds the rotating EU presidency for the six months to July, would not take much action.
The pair said this in response to Dutch PM Mark Rutte, who in his address to the parliament earlier on Wednesday set out his agenda for the period and mentioned the climate just once.
Only one representative of each of the seven political groupings of the European Parliament were given time to speak during the debate, which drew few other MEPs.
AVIATION AND SHIPPING
Several of the MEPs re-iterated calls made during the December talks in Paris about the need to address emissions from international aviation and shipping, the explicit mention of which was left out of the final agreement.
Peter Liese of the centre-right EPP, who has led the parliament’s efforts to tackle aviation emissions for many years, said the EU should step in with its own legislation should the UN’s bodies for aviation (ICAO) and shipping (IMO) fail to impose ambitious regulations.
“Something has to be done in those sectors,” he said.
In particular on aviation, he said: “if ICAO is not in a position to get a reduction of GHGs, not just a stabilisation, I would hope we can get some credible legislation off the ground.”
The EU in 2012 suspended its law to regulate via its ETS all flights using most European airports, but it ultimately reduced the law’s application to only intra-EU flights.
The decision was predicated on an understanding that ICAO would craft a global market-based measure to regulate aviation emissions by its Oct. 2016 meeting, to take effect from 2020.
The suspension is due to be lifted end-2016 but the European Commission is to draft a new proposal immediately following the Oct. ICAO General Assembly that could prolong it if European lawmakers deem the organisation’s efforts to regulate aviation emissions globally to be adequate.
Liese’ reference to ICAO achieving a reduction in GHGs rather than merely stabilising them is significant because it indicates he may not deem the aviation industry’s stated ambition to be sufficient.
Global airline association IATA wants ICAO to set a goal that net global emissions from the sector peak in 2020 and absolute emissions halve by 2050, setting a cap based on aviation emissions over 2018-2020.
This would be far weaker than the EU’s original law, which sought to cap emissions at a much lower level based on airlines’ 2004-2006 emissions.
Liese and the EU Parliament are likely to pursue a stronger line than EU member states, which have shown little appetite to re-apply the measure. Both must ultimately be in agreement for the proposal to be adopted.
- After Paris, EU climate commissioner Arias Canete ruled out revisiting the EU 2030 GHG target until the next Commission takes office in late 2019.
- The Paris Agreement features a voluntary ‘stocktake’ of how national pledges are contributing to a long-term target in 2018 and a voluntary revisiting of pledges in 2020. The first binding stocktake is in 2023, with a binding revisiting of pledges in 2025.
- Analysts have suggested that the national pledges would only limit global temperatures to 2.7C above pre-industrial levels, well short of the binding Paris Agreement goal of “well below 2C”.
- An Environment Council meeting of all EU environment ministers planned for Mar. 4 will include following up on Paris and is likely to feature discussions over whether the EU should review its 2030 goal.
- Few lawmakers have previously directly raised the issue of deepening the EU 2030 target beyond the “at least” 40% reduction agreed by the bloc’s leaders in 2014, with many observers expecting little change to the target after a hard-fought political deal was struck on that number. Only Sweden and France have raised the prospect up to now.
- Any deepening of the overall EU pledge would almost certainly mean a tighter cap for the ETS, which regulates around half of the bloc’s GHG output.
- MEP Ian Duncan has already said the Paris Agreement’s reference to a 1.5C goal may force EU lawmakers to ratchet up the ETS reform proposal and would at least require some consideration by lawmakers.
By Ben Garside – firstname.lastname@example.org