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Stavros Dimas

Member of the European Commission, responsible for environment

Towards a global agreement on tackling climate change

Paris Conference on the Environment
Paris, 2-3 February 2007

Our climate is changing. The changes we are observing now are only a prelude of what science tells us to expect as temperatures increase further.

The EU's objective is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Beyond this threshold, the risk of irreversible large scale events increases dramatically. The window of opportunity for meeting this objective is however closing fast, we cannot afford to delay action. Today, the IPCC has confirmed that without action temperature rises are likely to take us well beyond this threshold this century.

On 10 January the Commission put forward a set of concrete proposals to ensure that the 2 degrees objective can be met. We demonstrate that worldwide greenhouse gas emissions need to peak around 2020 and then fall by as much as 50% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels if we are to reach the 2 degree objective. Such ambitions can only be achieved through global action. And global action requires continued leadership from the EU and developed countries as a whole. In particular, we expect the US as the world first emitter of greenhouse gases to take action. The European Commission proposes that developed countries adopt a greenhouse gas emissions reduction objective of 30% below 1990 levels by 2020.

All economic sectors need to contribute to the fight against climate change. The Commission has already taken landmark decisions on emission trading and the Member States national plans for the next trading period. It has also proposed to curb emissions from aviation by including it in EU emission trading. This week, the Commission adopted an important decision about fuel quality, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fuel use and save, over the period to 2020, some 500 MT of CO2 equivalent. For the car sector, as one of the main emitters of CO2, legislation is now necessary to reach the Community objective of 120 gr CO2/km. The scientific case presented today makes it clear that wemust take firm action to reduce emissions. I am therefore pleased that the Commission will adopt the decision to introduce legislation for CO2 emission from cars next week.

Fresh momentum is needed to kick start international negotiations and drive forward a sufficiently ambitious global climate agreement. The EU should give a clear signal to our partners worldwide that it is time to move from words to action. This is why the Commission proposes that the EU takes on an independent commitment to reduce its emissions by at least 20% even if there is no international deal. The independent commitment underpins our strong determination to obtain an international agreement, emphasising that fighting climate change is feasible and makes economic sense.

We also need to step up our cooperation with developing countries to help them to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, and reduce them from 2020 onwards. The Commission has put forward a number of options for engaging developing countries in a global climate agreement.

Energy insecurity is for instance a key issue. India already imports more than 70% of its oil, and in two decades China will do so too. Decreasing energy demand through energy efficiency is a win-win policy that also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This is also the case for measures that improve local air quality. Nine out of the 10 mega-cities worst affected by particle matter are located in Asia, the other one is in Africa. Recent studies for the Beijing area estimate that halving local air pollution would also decrease expected CO2 emissions by a third with substantially larger health benefits than costs.

The global carbon market must be a key tool in our global efforts to tackle climate change. The carbon market has already seen a remarkably swift start. The Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism is expected to generate already more than 1 billion ton CO2 equivalent emission reductions by 2012. The EU has created the single largest emission trading system, which sits at the heart of the global carbon market, and has demonstrated the power of pricing greenhouse gas emissions.

For the period after 2012 we want to see a much more integrated global carbon market and better access to innovative financing tools. I would like to stress that this carbon market is of mutual interest to all of us. It ensures that cost effective emission reductions are undertaken at a global scale. It deploys low carbon technologies in all countries and it builds capacity for a low global carbon future.

Technologies to reduce our emissions are there. climate change is not just a serious threat – it is also a huge opportunity. The transition to a low-carbon economy opens up enormous possibilities that the most dynamic firms in Europe and elsewhere are beginning to grasp. The leaders in this new industrial revolution will be those who are first to fully integrate climate concerns into their business strategy. This will constitute an essential competitive advantage for companies in an increasingly energy constrained world.

There is no way a single group of countries will be able on its own to tackle climate change. If there is one example of why we need to work jointly, at the international level, it is the fight against climate change.

This requires not only a strong political will. It also requires well funded and functioning multilateral institutions.

This conference is therefore rightly dedicated to global environmental governance. We in the EU have proposed to look seriously at the way the UN deals with environmental issues, and we have proposed to strengthen the environmental voice inside the UN, notably through strengthening UNEP, and upgrading it into a UN Environmental Organisation. We believe that this way, the UN will be better equipped to deal with today's pressing environmental issues, from water to air pollution, to biodiversity, to climate change.

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