There will, however, be those wishing to continue to offer a range of targets in order leverage other nations up to a higher level of ambition: the “we will if you will” approach. But one thing that was clear in Copenhagen was that the major power blocks were not there to negotiate their targets. The US arrived with a number and was not about to change it, not without domestic legislation in place, which may take another 12 months to pass. The Chinese also, for the first time, arrived with a number but they too offered it on a non-negotiable basis. So who was the EU was trying to tempt into accepting higher targets?
The way forward agreed under the Copenhagen accord is a bottom-up approach: countries will voluntarily pledge targets. The EU knows that there is a yawning gulf between the targets rich countries have offered to date and what is needed to keep the world safe from more than 2C of global warming.
They and many others also now know that the 20% target is far from stretching, and that they could very comfortably go further. Latest analysis from Sandbag, the emissions trading campaigners, finds that with greenhouse gas emissions dropping because of the recession, the EU could now meet a unilateral target of a 30% reduction very easily
First, the EU is almost half way there already. Latest information from the European Environment Agency indicates that in 2008 our emissions levels were already at 10.7% below 1990 levels and that business-as-usual would take us close to 15%. Data for 2009 is very likely to show a further reduction.
Second, and most strikingly, recent studies have shown the drop in emissions during the recession has now lowered the costs of meeting a 30% target to at least €100bn below the projected costs for the 20% target.
Last, the presence in the EU of an emissions trading system and comprehensive policies to cut energy wastage and to boost the supply of lower carbon energy and fuels means the EU has the tools to meet a 30% cut effectively and efficiently.
Although the 20% target looked impressive when it was set in 2008, much has changed internationally since then. The 20% target is now lower in ambition than targets offered by the US and Japan when expressed in relation to most recent emissions data. China has also offered a target to decrease the carbon intensity of its economy and other major economies such as Brazil have also pledged unilateral, ambitious targets. The EU can no longer claim that 20% is a credible and world-leading target.
Other nations have made bold steps. President Lula of Brazil, a developing country with no current legal obligation to take action, has already enshrined in law its commitments to reduce emissions and deforestation [webcast of speech]. The newly elected President of Europe Hermann Van Rompuy, and the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, would do well to read his Copenhagen speech and reflect on what it means to lead.
Europe has the opportunity to inject new enthusiasm and hope into the deflated international climate talks by entering an ambitious 30% target into the Copenhagen accord. If the EU sticks with 20%, allowing billions of extra tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it would add insult to injury for the least developed and vulnerable countries already experiencing the negative impacts of a warming globe.
Now is not the time to sit back and wait, Europe must lead by example and demonstrate its commitment to making a low carbon economy a reality.
Bryony Worthington is the founder of Sandbag.org.uk. Sandbag has launched a new briefing and targeted political action calling on Europe to lead. Please sign Sandbag’s online letter to urge Hermann Van Rompuy, and the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to commit to 30% cuts in emissions.