Climate change : to address the global emergency, an ambitious and cross-cutting agreement must be sealed in Paris in 2015 [pl]
- French Ambassador to Poland Pierre Buhler, German Ambassador to Poland Rolf Nikel, British Ambassador to Poland Robin Barnett
There is an urgency here, pounding on our door. Climate disorder is not a hollow word, an imagined threat or the result of a conspiracy to undermine the foundations of our economies. It is already a reality, likely to affect, in a near future, our lives and those of our children.
The latest reports from the experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are clear : if the rise of global greenhouse gas emissions continues at its current pace (2.2% a year over the 2000-2010 decade, compared to 0.6% a year over the previous decade), the average worldwide surface temperature will increase by between 3.7 and 4.8 degrees above pre industrial area temperatures by the end of century. This is much higher than the 2° target which the international community has set itself.
Such a level of warming would have strong environmental implications : droughts, heatwaves, floods, disruption of ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, particularly in the oceans. Its consequences would be equally damaging to our economies. According to the most recent study cited in the report, a warming of 2.3°C would cut world GDP by 1.8%, while a warming of 4.9°C would cut it by 4.6%. Who can honestly believe that the impact of global warming affects only a few Pacific islands ? All of us, our societies, regardless of their location, whether in Europe or elsewhere, would not be spared.
The international community has already started to address the issue, but its action remains insufficient and inconsistent. Whereas carbon emissions have slightly decreased in OECD countries over the 2000-2010 decade, they rose by 5.4% a year in Asia over the period. The European Union has played a pioneering role in this regard by committing, alongside eight other countries, to cut, in the framework of the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol (2013-2020), its emissions by 20% from their 1990 levels by 2020. That may be insufficient to reverse the trend, but Europe, which was at the core of the industrial revolution, is expected to take bold actions on climate change. This vanguard role has sometimes been criticized : is there any point in striving to become a global role model when Europe “barely” accounts for 11% of worldwide CO2 emissions ? Aren’t we actually shooting ourselves in the foot and putting ourselves at a disadvantage in the global economic competition ?
These questions call, we think, for an absolutely determined common response : Europe ought to keep playing a proactive role in the run-up to the Paris conference at the end of 2015. Energy transition policies implemented over the past few years have already demonstrated potential to generate growth, innovation and employment.
The stakes at the Paris climate change conference in December 2015 are high : only by reaching an ambitious and comprehensive agreement can we ensure that we stay below the threshold of 2°C above pre-industrial levels and steer the planet clear of a hazardous path. Attitudes towards climate change have been gradually shifting in China and the US over the past few years. A report released on Oct. 13 by the US Department of Defense concludes that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security. And China, where “pollution accidents” start to be considered as a public health issue and might deter foreign investors, is now investing heavily in clean energy development.
Against this backdrop, Europe should continue to play a leadership role in the climate change debate. Its proposals at the Paris conference will be closely examined and will set the tone for the debate. These proposals should be set out at the European Council meeting on 23-24 October. The package under discussion calls for reduced European greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below their 1990 level by 2030 ; it proposes to increase the share of renewable energies to 27% of the EU’s energy consumption and to boost energy efficiency by 30% over the period. It also provides for an improvement of network interconnections so as to increase the flexibility and the security of our energy supplies. Although there remains work to be done and not all EU Member States are yet in agreement. An agreement should be possible and desirable ; it should ensure a fair spread of effort between member states taking due account of their different levels of development and recognizing their right to determine their own energy mix. It should nonetheless endeavour to advance as fast as possible, collectively and allowing for the constraints of each party, towards a low-carbon economy.
Moving towards that goal is not only a necessity, but also an opportunity. Our three countries have been the hotbed of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century. We know that innovation, technical progress, new energy sources have been at the core of the transformations experienced since that period. The development of clean, low-carbon energies, of energy efficiency and of the new industrial sectors create growth much the same way as fossil fuels earlier in our histories. Far from hindering competitiveness, such innovations will actually turn improve our competitiveness, increase jobs and drive economic growth. This rationale drives the policies of our three countries, as we decide to invest into this new energy transition.
In Germany, the “Energiewende”, or clean energy transition will lead to a fundamental shift in Germany’s energy supply. The current energy system, which relies on nuclear power, coal, oil, and gas, is being replaced by a new energy supply based on renewable energies. At present the share of renewables in energy production in Germany amounts to more than 27 percent. By 2050, this share will rise to 80 percent. In November, the Federal Government will present its “Action programme Climate Protection 2020” to design the way to achieve our 40 percent emission reduction goal by 2020. Apart from benefitting the climate, the “Energiewende” will reduce Germany’s dependence on energy imports. Today, much of our conventional energy sources (specifically oil, gas, uranium and coal) have to come from outside Germany. Renewable energy replacing these will be mostly generated inside Germany. As a most welcome side-effect, this will also create a significant number of new jobs.
In the United Kingdom, how to win the global competitiveness challenge, while still tackling climate change, is one of the most pressing issues facing the world. The UK government’s top priority has been a return to growth. And we have not sacrificed our climate ambitions to achieve this. In the UK, greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 26% since 1990, and our aim is for an 80% reduction by 2050. We have done this by growing our green exports by around 4% per year. The green economy is already supporting around 900,000 jobs in the UK. Businesses that master low carbon innovation will have a competitive edge, foster a climate of creativity and be resilient against economic storms over the horizon. Therefore, a crucial part of the UK’s green growth strategy is to transform our energy system, both to reduce energy demand and to increase the supply of lower carbon and renewable energy.
In France, at last, the Energy Transition Act recently adopted by the National Assembly sets out to reduce energy consumption 50% below its 2012 level before 2050 and aims at a four-fold reduction of greenhouse gases emissions compared to 1990. It stipulates that the share of renewable energy in total production should rise from 14% currently to 23% by 2020 and 32% by 2030. It provides for unprecedented investments in energy efficiency of buildings and for the development of a competitive and forward-looking industry in that sector as well.
These few examples highlight that fighting climate change does not harm the competitiveness of our economies, much to the contrary.
Those considerations will be at the core of the Paris summit at the end of 2015. As early as in 1972, the First Earth Summit held in Stockholm heralded that “each human being has two homelands : his own and the Earth”. Our planet is our common good and it falls upon us to pass it on to future generations in the best possible condition.
French Ambassador to Poland Pierre Buhler
German Ambassador to Poland Rolf Nikel
British Ambassador to Poland Robin Barnett