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EU, are you going the right way?

On Wednesday, the EU has revealed its “Energy Union Package”.

The Communication, from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, translates the European Policy Framework to 2030 adopted last October into the EU’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which observers expect to be officially submitted by March 6th, when all Minister of the Environment will gather in Brussels in occasion of the European Council.

There are some strong stances in the text. First of all, a call to “China, the US and other G20 countries” to submit their INDCs by the first quarter of 2015, as “they should be in a position to do so”.
Like saying, “you don’t have excuses guys!”.

LULUCF and ambition  However, the most relevant aspect of this communication package is about land sectors, which – it was decided – will be counted as part of that “at least 40%” in the 2015 agreement. Now, let’s see what this means. Including LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Changes and Forestry) into the INDCs is definitely not something bad on its self; instead, including such a relevant sector for greenhouse gas emissions would give a chance to set up precise rules which, for example, could have positive effects on frameworks like REDD+, potentially avoiding troubles as double counting.

Several analysts actually agree that LULUCF may account almost 5% of the overall 40%, thus representing between 12-13% of the target. This means that potentially we could interpret the words “at least” as a chance for adding this further reduction on top of the 40%, providing a more ambitious target.

We could, but unfortunately this is not the case. In the following paragraph, in fact, an additional sentence kills our hopes: “There is no merit in proposing a higher conditional target at the present time. Should the outcome of the negotiations warrant a more ambitious target, then the EU should be open to the use of international credits to complement domestic commitments (…)”.

So, forget about having a sort of 45% target: the 5% from LULUCF will most likely reduce other sector’s impact to 35%. This was in the air since a while, but now that it’s official it represents a shift for the EU, which was not using LULUCF sectors for its 2020 targets.

Legal form and process – EU makes it clear it wants a Protocol, under the UNFCCC, which “should enter into force as soon as countries with a collective total of 80% of current global emissions have ratified it”. Now, if it is true that EU, China and US together account for almost 50% of the global emissions (to 45% according to this document), therefore making it easy to reach the first half the goal, 80% seems to be a high number: it may take a while before getting enough countries to ratify the Protocol (or agreement, or another instrument) and making it enter into force. If you think about how long it took for Kyoto (defined in 1997, entered into force in 2004), potentially a lot of precious time could be wasted. Maybe more than we actually can take.

Additionally, EU suggests that “to join the Protocol, a Party must make a mitigation commitment (…) which should be equally legally binding on all Parties”. This sounds as a positive message to keep actions well defined, even reinforced by further recalls to “a common transparency and accountability framework”, and on the need of “robust rules on monitoring, reporting, verification and accounting”. However, there is no concrete mention to a compliance system, apart from a request for establishing an expert (and non-political) body to address questions raised over it.

It is also remarkable the challenge raised to Parties sustaining a non-legally binding agreement: “it is incumbent on those countries advocating that mitigation commitments should not be binding at international level to demonstrate how these advantages can be delivered under an alternative approach”. Indeed, It would be interesting to know.

But there are a few more relevant points in the document.

Long-term goals – We see EU having a very clear position on this, that “should be to reduce global emissions by at least 60% below 2010 levels by 2050”, which is equivalent to the EU historic goal of halving global emissions by 2050 compared to 1990. EU has also underlined how a domestic 40% reduction by 2030 is in line with the pathway to -80% by 2050, which means EU is currently expecting to cut emissions at a faster rate than the global average.

Review and commitment period – EU has confirmed its intention to ask for a 10 years commitment period (2021-2030), with 1990 as reference year and with“a global review to be conducted every 5 years”, in accordance to the latest findings from science.

Temperature target – the ambitious (but, according to science, feasible) 1.5°C target does not appear in the text, finally overcome by the 2°C one. This was expected, but not good news.

Aviation and shipping – EU underlined that both ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and IMO (International Maritime Organization) should “regulate” emissions from their sectors before the end of 2016. As well as agriculture, forestry and other land uses, these two sectors are considered key for a comprehensive coverage of emissions.

Adaptation for climate resilience – Adaptation has been playing an important role in the EU in the last couple of years: the adoption of the EU Adaptation Strategy in 2013 was a crucial step in moving forward, and this package outlines even more clearly the commitment to increase climate resilience of food security and many other sectors touching economy, communities and the environment.

Public and private finance – At its very beginning, paragraph 7.1 reads: “The transformation into low mission climate resilient economies will only be achieved through large-scale shifts in investment patterns”. So true. However, the commitment to mobilize financial support for Parties to the Protocol who need it the most is still attributed to “Countries in a position to do so”. Although I agree that national circumstances clearly need to be taken into account, I think we deserve at least some more clarity on the meaning of being able to do something.

While ensuring that public finance will remain important even after 2020, the EU also affirms that “the Protocol should also recognize the importance of private sector as a key source to scaling up climate finance”. As always, that sounds good – as long as it doesn’t turn into a way to reduce the role of the public.

Next steps – As mentioned, the EU seems to have pretty clear ideas on the steps forward. After officially submitting its INDC, EU will focus to pushing other major countries to do so (especially within the G20 context) and press for the Paris agreement to be in the form of a Protocol.

Also, they expect to (finally!) ratify the Second Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol by the end of the year. But most important, “by mid-2015 the Commission will also start to present legislative proposals to implement the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework to the European Parliament and the Council”. To make sure all good intentions turn into facts.

Federico Brocchieri

About Federico Brocchieri

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