Environment – Climate Change
Climate ChangeClimate change is already happening and represents one of the greatest environmental, social and economic threats facing the planet. The European Union is working actively for a global agreement to control climate change and is taking domestic action to achieve substantial reductions in its own contribution. It is also developing a European strategy for adapting to climate change. The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that the Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by 0.76° C since 1850. Most of the warming over the past 50 years is very likely to have been caused by emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other ‘greenhouse gases’ from human activities. Without action to reduce these emissions, the global average temperature is likely to rise by a further 1.8-4.0°C this century, and by up to 6.4°C in the worst case scenario, the IPCC projects. Even the lower end of this range would take the temperature increase since pre-industrial times above 2°C – the threshold beyond which many scientists believe irreversible and possibly catastrophic changes would become more likely.

The European Union has long been at the forefront of international efforts to combat climate change and was instrumental in the development of the two United Nations climate treaties, the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997.The EU has also been taking steps to limit its greenhouse gas emissions since the early 1990s.

In 2000 the European Commission launched the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP) which has led to the adoption of a wide range of new policies and measures, including the pioneering EU Emissions Trading System.

The Kyoto Protocol requires the 15 countries that were EU members at the time (‘EU-15’) to reduce  their collective emissions in the 2008-2012 period to 8% below 1990 levels. Emissions monitoring and projections show that the EU-15 is well on track to meet this target.

In 2007 EU leaders endorsed an integrated approach to climate and energy policy and committed to transforming Europe into a highly energy-efficient, low carbon economy. They made a unilateral commitment that Europe would cut its emissions by at least 20% of 1990 levels by 2020. This commitment is being implemented through a package of binding legislation.

The EU has also offered to increase its emissions reduction to 30% by 2020, on condition that other major emitting countries in the developed and developing worlds commit to do their fair share under a future global climate agreement. This agreement should take effect at the start of 2013 when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period will have expired.

The Copenhagen Accord reached in December 2009 represents a step towards such an agreement. The EU is pressing for a global deal that is ambitious, comprehensive and legally binding.