Climate Needs 'Radical Shock Treatment'; EU Pledges Only 'Smelling Salts'

Dressed as corporate lobbyists, Friends of the Earth Europe and Oxfam constructed a huge blockade of leaky oil barrels and bags of coal, to symbolise the dirty energy companies blocking action on climate change. These polluting companies are spending millions every year to prevent the transition to a clean, community-controlled energy future. (Photo: FOE Europe/cc/flickr)

Climate Needs 'Radical Shock Treatment'; EU Pledges Only 'Smelling Salts'

Challenging EU narrative, Green campaigners say only place European pledges are "leading" is towards climate disaster

If the non-binding pledges announced by European governments in Brussels on Friday morning are an indication of the global response to climate change, say green campaigners, the world and its inhabitants are in big, big trouble.

Members of the European Commission and European Council championed the commitments for emission reductions, energy conservation, and the increase of renewable power sources that were contained in the agreement, but expert critics say the targets simply are not strong enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the rate demanded by the science of climate change.

"The global fight against climate change needs radical shock treatment, but what the EU is offering is at best a whiff of smelling salts."
--Mahi Sideridou, Greenpeace

Designed to set out Europe's collective position ahead of next year's global climate summit in Paris, negotiators agreed to a formula that would include a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and a 27 percent increase in both energy efficiency and renewable energy creation, all by the year 2030.

European Commission president, Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso, said, "This package is very good news for our fight against climate change. No player in the world is as ambitious as the EU."

That opinion was not shared, however, by experts at Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Oxfam International.

"To describe 40 percent emissions cuts as adequate or ambitious, as EU leaders are doing, is dangerously irresponsible," said Brook Riley, climate justice and energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe. "40 percent is off the radar of climate science. This deal does nothing to end Europe's dependency on fossil fuels or to speed up our transition to a clean energy future. It's a deal that puts dirty industry interests ahead of citizens and the planet."

Oxfam International's Natalia Alonso welcomed the 40 percent goal but said the EU details of the agreement fall "far too short of what the EU needs to do to pull its weight in the fight against climate change." She added, "Insufficient action like this from the world's richest countries places yet more burden on the poorest people most affected by climate change, but least responsible for causing this crisis."

"This deal does nothing to end Europe's dependency on fossil fuels or to speed up our transition to a clean energy future. It's a deal that puts dirty industry interests ahead of citizens and the planet."
-- Brook Riley, Friends of the Earth

And Mahi Sideridou, managing director of Greenpeace Europe, highlighted the idea how the vague and non-binding commitments don't nearly match the extreme urgency of the crisis.

"The global fight against climate change needs radical shock treatment, but what the EU is offering is at best a whiff of smelling salts," declared Sideridou. "People across Europe want cleaner energy, but EU leaders are knocking the wind out of Europe's booming renewables sector. Europe can and should do more to stop the most devastating impacts of climate change."

Molly Walsh, also of Friends of the Earth Europe described the commitments by Europe's leaders as "barely more than business-as-usual" and said that rather than showing true leadership, the stated goals actually "send a dangerous signal" to other world governments that the EU's relatively strong policies are now being abandoned.

As the Guardianreports, several countries--including the U.K. and Poland--continually roadblocked more aggressive action by threatening to use their veto power to torpedo the entire agreement:

Poland, heavily dependent on coal-fired energy production, threatened to block the deal unless the costs to its economy and industry were discounted by EUR15bn-EUR20bn (PS12bn-PS16bn) between 2020 and 2030, under a complicated system of concessions from the EU's carbon trading system.

Concessions granted to Poland will allow it to continue reaping hundreds of millions of euros in free allowances to modernise coal-fired power plants. Of eight EU nations eligible for the free allocations, Poland claimed 60% of the total up until 2019.

A poll by TNS and YouGov for the online activist group Avaaz late last week found that 56% of Poles thought that EU financial support for energy should back clean energy rather than fossil fuels.

"It's scandalous," Julia Michalak, a spokeswoman for Climate Action Network Europe, told the Guardian. "A continuation of free emission permits for Poland's coal-reliant energy system would be a grave mistake. Leaders who came to Brussels to agree new historic climate goals, are actually discussing whether to hand out money to Europe's dirtiest power plants."

According to Greenpeace's assessment of the EU agreement:

  • Leaders agreed three climate and energy targets for 2030: an "at least" 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions within the EU (without the use of offset credits), based on 1990 levels; a binding share of at least 27 per cent renewable energy in the EU's energy mix; and an indicative target of at least 27 per cent energy savings, which could be increased to 30 per cent after a review in 2020.
  • For lower income EU countries, such as Poland, the agreement includes mechanisms to support investments in "energy modernisation and energy efficiency". Under current policies, these funds have been misused to support coal plants.
  • Several industries will continue to receive free carbon emission allowances, but details on the workings of the EU carbon market won't be known until legislation is tabled next year.
  • Leaders also adopted a target to increase interconnections between Europe's power markets to 15% in 2030.

As a counter, Friends of the Earth said targets must be "binding" and enforceable (as oppose to voluntary) and much more ambitious. According to the group, "Emissions must be reduced by at least 60% by 2030 to deliver the EU's fair share of action and be in line with the latest science, and there must be binding targets to reduce energy use by 50% and increase the share of energy produced by renewables to 45%."

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