By Viola King Forbes
Recently appointed President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen has pledged to make climate change her signature focus. This is reflected in her inaugural plans for the ‘EU Green Deal’, a promise to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050.
The highly ambitious aims of the Green Deal echo those of US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. Von Der Leyen has gone so far as to analogise it as ‘Europe’s man on the moon moment’.
Ten goals laid out by the commission include the overarching objective of climate neutrality, to be enshrined in climate law proposed in March of this year. This will be accompanied by aims for:
Larry Elliott, The Guardian’s economics editor, and mastermind behind the first whispers of a Green New Deal in 2007, warned that the scheme, in its matured stage in the US and now also in the EU, was at risk of becoming ‘a theory of everything’, perceivable not as ‘green’, but in fact ‘red’.
Labelled by many merely as a communist manifesto, the deal has already faced attacks, the commission accused of ‘tyrannical’ behaviour, ‘sacrificing life in pursuit of utopia’. Such criticism parallels Poland’s decision to opt out of the 2050 emissions target. Concerns over energy security in a country reliant on coal for 80% of its electricity reflect a lack of faith in the EU’s ability to source promised €100billion transition funds.
However, the commission also faces criticism for not having done enough. Dr Tadzio Muller of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation stated three issues with the deal.
Anticipating such accusations of idealism from multiple angles, Von Der Leyen has attempted to placate all. With action conditional on protection against competition, this ‘deal by Europe, for Europe’ therefore runs the risk of meeting the same fate as previous climate action by attempting compromise.
Many deals, from the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement, and the most recent Conference of Parties in Madrid, demonstrate a consensus on the urgent need for climate action, but have gone little further. Likewise, the new EU Green Deal demonstrates the right intent. It acknowledges the action need to effectively address the climate crisis which will requires efforts on a scale comparable to putting man on the moon. Yet, evidence of hesitation remains.
Two scenarios await us. Either we face a climate disaster in pursuit of protectionism-fueled growth, or we attempt an economic transformation founded on sustainability. Turmoil is imminent regardless; until legislators accept this, gridlock remains inevitable.
The EU Green Deal represents progress; change is possible, and in the long term, beneficial. However, if we want control over our future, there must be no compromises to ideals of economic growth. Attempting to fulfill every promise will only result in us failing to deliver them all.
What is the appropriate level of action to fight climate change? Individual, or systemic? This subject of fierce debate was discussed at our event last Monday "Should we really care about plastic straws?".
The speakers Dr Tina Fawcett and Dr Thomas Hale acknowledged the argument for some that focusing on individual action represents not only a complete waste of time, but also a danger:
By Olivia Oldham
What is Article 6?
Article 6 allows cooperation in order for states to achieve their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement (art 6.1). Article 6 sets up three mechanisms for cooperation:
The important thing to understand is that although the Paris Agreement briefly sets out the existence of these cooperation mechanisms, it doesn't detail the rules of how they will operate. Negotiations on these rules were meant to have concluded at COP24 in Poland in 2018, but they were carried over to COP25 in Madrid last December.
How do carbon markets work?
Carbon markets represent the idea that if an entity (a state, or sometimes a corporation) reduces its carbon/greenhouse gas emissions, it can claim a credit. It can then sell that credit at an agreed rate to another entity, enabling it to continue to emit at a higher rate.
Carbon markets are said to have several advantages. For example, they are argued to make global emissions reductions cheaper, theoretically enabling higher ambition/faster reductions. This is said to be because wealthier countries can pay less wealthy countries to implement mitigation measures which are cheaper to carry out in that country. One study showed that carbon markets can be used to achieve nearly double the emissions reductions aimed for in countries' current NDCs at no additional cost.
Whether or not carbon markets actually achieve their potential, they're pragmatically important because they are included in the emissions reduction plans of most countries – though the UK has stated that it doesn't plan to use carbon credits to reach its net zero goal.
Potential pitfalls of carbon trading?
What happened in Madrid in December at COP25?
Matters on the table included:
No decision was reached despite COP25 going 44 hours overtime, a new record. In large part, this was because a few key countries dragged their feet on some of the key issues under discussion, in particular about the ability to use 'carry-over' Kyoto credits (Brazil & Australia in particular), and the inclusion of loopholes enabling double-counting (particularly Brazil).
In the end, all that was decided was that negotiations will more or less start again at an intersessional meeting in June, and at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2020, under 'Rule 16' of the UN climate process.
How drastic is the failure to negotiate Article 6?
The lack of agreement is deeply frustrating, yes, and it stymies the initiation of a new global carbon credit trading mechanism. But there is still some hope:
Overall, it's very important that a functioning set of rules which achieves the purpose of article 6 to enable "higher ambition in [countries'] mitigation and adaptation actions and to promote sustainable development and environmental integrity" (art 6.1) is agreed upon at COP26. However, the lack of agreed rules doesn't actually prevent ambitious, committed entities from using cooperation strategies to reduce their emissions already.
OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.