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Stavros Dimas

Member of the European Commission, responsible for environment

Climate Change:
Why a Global Response needs European Leadership

Launch event of the European Commission and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change co-operation for 2007
London, 11 January 2007

Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen

Before I became Commissioner for the Environment I was a parliamentarian for 30 years. I am a firm believer in the role of elected politicians driving forward the political agenda. I am also convinced that one of the best ways of bringing Europe closer to its citizens is to develop the links between European institutions and national (and regional) parliaments. It is therefore an honour to have been invited to speak to you today and address the "Mother of Parliaments".

The other key to building trust in the EU is to deliver a "Europe of Results" - which means addressing the issues that really matter to European citizens. The reality of climate change is already with us. In the United Kingdom, 2006 was the warmest year since records began in 1659. On the global level, the ten hottest years have all been occurred since 1990. There can be no issue where results are more urgently needed than in addressing climate change.

One of the first policy documents that I presented to the Commission after I was appointed as the EU Commissioner for Environment was called “Winning the Battle against Climate Change”. This policy document, or “Communication” as we call it in Brussels, was one of the most important achievements of the Barroso Commission because it outlined the key elements for the EU's climate change strategy. It became the blueprint for the European response to climate change and, with the support of the Member States (and in particular the UK Presidency), the main ideas were taken up by the international community at the 2005 Climate Conference in Montreal. The Communication is a clear example of what we mean by European leadership and it set the basis for the paper on Climate Change that was adopted yesterday.

But there is one thing that we got wrong ... and that is the title. Because as the scientific evidence accumulates it is clear that the fight against climate change is much more than a battle. It is a world war that will last for many years and probably for many generations.

Damaged economies, refugees, political instability, and the loss of life are typically the results of war. But they will also be the results of unchecked climate change. It is like a war because to reduce emissions something very like a war economy is needed. All sectors – transport, energy, agriculture and foreign policy must work closely together to meet a common objective. And it is a world war because every country in the world will be affected by the results of climate change – although it will be the poorest who are hit hardest.

In today's world of accelerating globalisation there are many challenges that nations simply cannot address working on their own. Fighting terrorism, pandemics such as bird flu, poverty in Africa, nuclear proliferation and energy security. These are all areas where countries have to find a way of working together if their policies are to have any chance of success.

Political challenges are increasingly global in their nature and there can be no more obvious case than climate change where there is no alternative to global cooperation. No country can tackle climate change in isolation. The UK's emissions of greenhouse gasses are responsible for about 2% of the global total. EU emissions are responsible for about 14%. A global response is the only possible solution and there are five clear reasons why this will need a strong and effective European Union.

The first is because effective "climate diplomacy" will be essential if we are to convince the United States and key developing countries to come to the negotiating table. As Margaret Beckett said in her recent speech in Berlin, and I quote, "... today being a credible foreign minister means being serious about climate security". The EU has over 450 million citizens and has the largest market in the world. It is self-evident that by acting together we have a much greater diplomatic influence than by acting alone.

The second reason is leadership by example. The EU has provided the world with a demonstration of how it is possible for twenty-seven very different countries to act together to reduce emissions and without damaging national economies.

A third reason is because the EU has developed the world’s first example of a cross-border Emissions Trading Scheme to reduce greenhouse emissions. This is the most effective policy tool that exists for reducing emissions - and it is a model that the rest of the world is already looking to as we work towards a global approach to emissions control.

The fourth reason is because many of the other policies that are decided – at least partly – at the European level also need to be mobilised against climate change. These include the obvious sectors such as transport and energy. Research policy and industrial policy are also needed in order to develop and promote new technologies. Inside the EU, regional funds will have to support investments in emissions reduction and climate change adaptation. Development cooperation will have to support similar investments in third countries. And the EU's agricultural policy will not only have to protect the soils and forests which absorb CO2 but should also support the production of clean bio-fuels.

The fifth and final reason is linked to competitiveness. Industry often claims that high environmental standards could damage international competitiveness. But a common European approach applies across the entire single market. It reduces the impact on competitiveness and allows a higher level of ambition.

The science on climate change is clear and we can see the evidence is before our eyes. We have a good idea of the likely social, environmental and – following the Stern Review - economic cost of climate change. We already have the basic technologies that can reduce emissions ... and these are being improved all the time. We have the resources to make the necessary investments.

If we are to have a chance of successfully tackling climate change the real challenges are not scientific, or technical or economic. They are political. We have clear political commitments from Europe’s leaders to make the fight against climate change a top priority. But when it comes to making difficult economic choices there is still a gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

The task for the next years is translating these words into actions and the European Commission will continue to play a full role. Yesterday we put forward a historic package of energy and climate change proposals. These include the details of what we believe a new global climate change agreement should look like. I will come back to these in a moment, but before I look to the future I would like to outline some of the measures that the European Union is already working on.

  • The Emissions Trading Scheme will continue as a major focus of our work. The Commission's decision last November on the National Allocation Plans sent a strong signal of our determination to place the meeting of our Kyoto targets above sectoral interest. We will continue with this approach since we simply cannot allow the credibility of our system to be destroyed by over-generous allocations.
  • Later this year, we will also be looking at extending the Emissions Trading Scheme to cover more sectors and more gases. And we have already started negotiations with a number of non-EU countries to look at the possibility of linking up the similar schemes that are being set up around the world in order to form a global emissions trading network.
  • Last month we proposed legislation to address the rapidly rising emissions from aviation by bringing this sector into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in 2011. I look forward to this directive being adopted during the next six months.
  • I will shortly be publishing our review of the EU strategy on CO2 emissions from new cars. It is clear that further actions will be needed to reach our 2012 target of average emissions of 120 grams per kilometre – and the Commission will propose legislation later this year.
  • Carbon capture and storage has the potential to make a big contribution to de-carbonising our economies - but we have to ensure it is used in an environmentally safe way. The Commission will be putting forward a regulatory framework during the course of this year.
  • We will also publish a Green Paper on an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change. Adaptation is essential to protect people, property and nature against the increasingly severe impacts we will face.

We are already doing a lot but it is quite clear that much more is needed.

As I said earlier, the current international debate on climate change has been influenced by the Commission's Communication of February 2005. It is our hope that the proposals in the Communication we published yesterday, together with our new energy policy package, will set the agenda for moving the international community beyond debate and into a phase of concrete negotiations on a new global climate deal.

The Commission's starting point is that climate change must be limited to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. The scientific evidence indicates is that the risks of irreversible and potentially catastrophic impacts will greatly increase beyond this threshold.

From our analysis it is clear that to have even a 50/50 chance of keeping within this 2 degree limit, worldwide greenhouse gas emissions will have to peak before 2025 and then fall by as much as 50% of 1990 levels by 2050. As the next step towards this longer-term reduction, and as part of a new global climate agreement, the Commission is proposing that developed countries cut their emissions to an average of 30% below 1990 levels by 2020.

An international agreement will be a necessary condition for meeting our objective of limiting temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celsius. However, if such an agreement does not materialise in time the EU should still commit to further reduce its emissions. We are therefore proposing that the EU will, in any event, take on a firm independent commitment to reduce its emissions by at least 20% by 2020.

There are a number of reasons for taking such an independent commitment. First, this would strengthen our leadership in the international context by showing determination for action. Second, it will benefit our economy in terms of increased energy security and public health. Thirdly, it will give a welcome signal to the market that the emissions trading system will continue after 2012. Last, but not least, it will enhance predictability and encourage investment in clean technologies.

A firm commitment by the EU and the rest of the developed world to tough emissions reductions is essential if are to convince developing and transition countries to take action. But without the cooperation of these countries it will simply not be possible to keep global warming within 2 degrees Celsius. By 2020 they together will be emitting more than developed nations.

The rise in emissions from developing and transition countries needs to start slowing as soon as possible, and from around 2020 their emissions need to start falling in absolute terms. This will be a major challenge: but there are many options for cutting emissions in that would deliver immediate economic and social benefits and that would not affect their legitimate pursuit of economic growth and poverty reduction. Increasing energy efficiency and improving air quality are two examples.

I am also in no doubt that one of the most challenging issues will be tackling deforestation. We cannot continue to overlook this since it is the second largest emissions source after fossil fuel combustion, and contributes around 20% of global emissions. It is also one of the main reasons for the loss of global biodiversity.

Our figures show that for the 2 degrees ceiling to be met, net deforestation needs to be halted completely within the next two decades and then reversed through reforestation and afforestation schemes. It will take strong political will and considerable ingenuity to devise the economic and political incentives to make these changes happen.

Our proposals are not easy. But the bottom line is that they are essential if we are to keep global warming within manageable limits and spare future generations the most devastating economic, social and environmental impacts of climate change. As the Stern Review has underlined, the benefits of taking action far outweigh the costs.

The unique nature of the EU means that our policies on climate change can be ambitions and effective. Majority voting on most environmental questions means that member states cannot veto measures they don’t like. The Commission is an impartial guardian of European legislation and has been prepared to stand up to vested interests. Our legislation is backed up by a Court that is unafraid to find against national governments while enforcement can be actively encouraged through EU funding.

Effective international action on climate change means going beyond national self-interest and pooling sovereignty. No other international environmental organisation has these tools at its disposal - and the result is that action through the EU really works while other international efforts can often end up as little more than talking shops. To put it another way, "... if the EU didn't exist, then the challenge of climate change means that we would need to invent something very similar".

This is a fact that is recognised by the European public and environment is one of the policy areas where there is the highest levels of support for EU action. The environment is also one issues where the EU can best connect with its citizens. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the European Union I am convinced that protecting the environment – and in particular tackling climate change – will be at the very heart of the European project over the next 50 years. The alternative is to surrender in the war against climate change ... and that is really no alternative at all.

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