The tragic impacts of hurricane Sandy in the US and the Carribean are a reminder of the kind of extreme weather events that climate change will make more frequent and intense. Have a look at this blog from the US NGO the Natural Resource Defence Council for a useful explanation of this.
With this in mind, it was welcome news to hear that In 2011 greenhouse emissions from the 27 EU countries fell by 2.5%. In fact, they’ve fallen by 17.5% since 1990. And right in front of the pack is....the UK - with a reduction in emissions of 6.1%!
This means that it looks as though the EU will overachieve by a factor of two its Kyoto Protocol target of -8% by 2012 and has almost reached its 2020 target of -20%. In fact, if you count emissions offsets from developing countries, the EU has probably already exceeded its 2020 target.
This is all good news but before having a big party we need to ask if the emission reductions are sustainable. Were they a result of policy or just a one off coincidence? Also, if the EU’s targets are so easy to achieve are they not too low? Should we not be more ambitious?
The answer to the first question is that emissions fell for reasons of both policy and happenstance. In northern and western European countries last winter was milder than in recent years and that led to decreased use of fossil fuels for heating, especially in homes. Also, in the UK, nuclear generation was up by 17.1% and the same was true in France. So, if emissions are to stay on a downward trend we either need more mild winters or more policy interventions, or both. Being a bit more reliable than the weather, policy interventions are probably the better bet.
The answer the second question of why the EU is not more ambitious is far simpler: Poland. Three times the EU Council of Ministers has tried to raise the EU 2020 target to 30% - which reflects the level of cuts needed to keep the world within safe limits of global warming - and three times the vote has been 26 countries to 1, with Poland imposing its veto.
But the challenge isn’t just getting Poland on side. In the UK, as with many other countries, the recession and cuts have dominated politics, whilst the climate crisis has been put to one side. Sadly, nature can’t wait and we’re running out of time, because with our current targets global emissions will massively overshoot where we need to be to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.
Posted by John Lanchbery, Principal Climate Change Adviser at the RSPB