Saturday, November 01, 2014

European Initiatives on Climate Change


                                                     Comments due by Nov. 9, 2014

BLISS was it in that pre-Lehman dawn to be alive. But to be European was very heaven. Before
the world economy turned turtle in 2008, the European Union presented an attractive face to
the world. Its scepticism about military force and love of global rules was a welcome counterweight
to the cowboy unilateralism of George Bush’s America. The issue of climate change presented a
golden opportunity for Europe to flex its soft power, economic muscle and high-minded
internationalism for the good of mankind. Perhaps, mused some, the EU should rebrand itself
the “Environmental Union.”

The crash, and the devastation unleashed across the euro zone, put paid to all that. But the
environment is back. At their most recent summit, on October 23rd and 24th, Europe’s heads of
government agreed on a climate and energy package that obliges the EU to ensure that by 2030
its emissions of greenhouse gases will be at least 40% lower than in 1990. To achieve that goal,
each of the 28 members will have to meet its own legally binding target (these remain to be set).
The deal succeeds an earlier one, signed in 2007, under which the EU agreed to a 20%
emissions cut by 2020. It is supposed to pave the way to a reduction worth 80-95% by 2050.
The agreement was hard-fought and complex even by EU standards. Poorer countries such as
Poland, which relies on coal for 90% of its electricity, demanded and won various sweeteners to
ease their transition to cleaner fuels. Two “sub-targets” of 27%, on the renewable share of the
energy mix and on improvements to energy efficiency, were included in the deal but have no
teeth (the renewables goal is binding only at “EU level”, which leads one to wonder if the club
will sue itself should it be missed). Spain and Portugal secured commitments to let them export
surplus energy over the Pyrenees into France. An accommodation was even found for Ireland’s
methane-belching cows.

It is not enough, growled the green lobbyists. They fumed that the targets will leave too much to
do to meet the 2050 goal, because later cuts will be much harder to make than earlier ones. A
more ambitious deal was probably politically impossible. But such complaints obscure the
deeper truth: that Europe is on its way to becoming an emissions pygmy. In 2012 the EU
accounted for only 11% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, next to 16% for the United States
and 29% for China. And that number will continue to shrink as Europe’s economy declines
relative to the rest of the world.

Developing countries argue that Europe has historical responsibilities to discharge, given the
cumulative heat-trapping effect of its emissions over the centuries. Fair enough. But one reason
why officials were so keen to strike a deal now is that on the climate (if on little else), the
European example—they believe—can still inspire others. They hope that at a conference in
Paris in December 2015, world leaders will be ready to sign a climate-change compact to govern
emissions after 2020, having failed to do so in Copenhagen five years ago.
Indeed, in the run-up to last week’s meeting, officials wove a happy fable in which the EU deal
would trigger movement in America, which in turn would inspire China. An “at least”
formulation was attached to the 40% goal, enabling the EU to ratchet up its contribution if
others show similar ambition.

Nor is Europe’s influence confined to the “soft” realm of cajoling and persuasion. Officials in
California, for example, made several fact-finding visits to Brussels to investigate the EU’s
emissions-trading regime when preparing their own, the world’s second-largest (it has since
been extended to Quebec). Before its launch two years ago the Californians told sceptics that
they had learned important lessons from the European example—even if these were largely
about what to avoid.

Like so many predecessors, the Paris conference will be billed as the world’s last chance to avoid
calamitous climate change. This time, developments elsewhere may offer slightly more
justification for the wilder hopes of European officials, especially when compared with 2007.
Barack Obama, who has been flexing his regulatory muscles at home, has an eye on his
environmental legacy, even if a Republican-controlled Congress will do its best to thwart him.
The Chinese have hinted they may offer a date by when their carbon emissions will peak.
So the power of the European example may not be a complete figment of officials’ imagination.
But its power is waning. Already relatively green, the EU risks being taken for granted in global
climate negotiations; it is hard to imagine influential countries—China, say, or America—
making concessions to win the Europeans over. The emissions-trading scheme, which covers
12,000 industrial polluters and half of Europe’s total carbon emissions, is at the heart of the
EU’s plans—and it is a farce. The market is massively oversupplied with permits, which now
trade for little more than €6 ($7.60) a tonne, meaning there is little incentive to ditch dirty fuels.
Europe is actually burning more coal than ever. An Anglo-German plan to accelerate a
withdrawal of permits from the market should help, although the Poles will yet again have to be
talked round.

Although the EU will easily meet its 2020 target, that is thanks largely to its sickly economy.
Recession is no remedy for climate woes. Indeed, the green rhetoric from European officials has
lately taken a growth-friendly turn; with unemployment high and growth prospects flat, citizens
will not take kindly to energy-price rises. As they translate their climate pledges into policies,
Europe’s governments will have to tread carefully if they are to lead the world without leaving
behind their voters.

(The Economist)

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

This article gives hope at first, that substantial environmental regulations will be put into place to decrease emissions, but is quick to turn and disappoint. The numbers sound promising, 20 and 40% decreases by 2020 and 2050, but the chance that these large goals will be met depend on a lot. With conferences going as they did in the past, (even the article mentions past conferences being referred to as "our last chance"), it is hard to have any faith in the outcome of December 2015. Also, the article mentions that any current success may be due to the poor economy, which is NOT a cure for our current dilemma, as we have discussed in class, in relation to Steady State Economies.

Jennifer Hare

Anonymous said...

As the previous poster states this give me hope only to disappoint. what the author says is very true though, world leaders need to use Europe as an example and follow their lead. If larger countries like china and america can do this it could change the current terrible situation we have put our planet and ourselves in. I really hope Europe is able to lead in this change although even the author express some doubt in that. Only time will tell.
Nick Stanton

Brianna Connelly said...

I think it is a good thing that Europe is taking a step to an environmental solution. They are setting goals, this is something the rest of the world should follow. This should be the first step. I understand that the green lobbyist do not think that this is enough, but it is a start. I would like the give them credit where credit is due. The article states “The Chinese have hinted they may offer a date by when their carbon emissions will peak. So the power of the European example may not be a complete figment of officials’ imagination.” Europe’s bad economy right now will not have their citizens happy with the changes, I’m sure if I lived there I would have a hard time adjusting to energy-price raises. But like we have learned over and over again, we NEED it. Although they are not yet enough, at least steps are being taken.

Brianna Connelly

Anonymous said...

I do agree with what the three comments before me have said. In the beginning, this article is quite hopeful. You think, 'There are countries out there who are finally beginning to solve their environmental problems.' But then the author begins to get into the failures of the past- the conferences, the recession(s), etc. We do need to at least try to begin the process of planning the safety of the environment for the future. The EU is doing a good job though, of trying to set an example for the rest of the world by setting up the conferences, even if the conferences have failed. Maybe the EU realizes that the first step is to at least start somewhere- set up a conference, create goals, do something about the problem(s) that we face.

-E. Piper Phillips

Chelsea Dow said...

Of course, I too do agree that the EU's initiative to decrease carbon emissions is a positive. Recognizing themselves as a catalyst for ecological devastation, they also realized they could be the voice that could change the path of all industrialized nations. If the EU could only stick to their initiative would it prove truly effective in my eyes. I hate to be a pessimist or denounce their efforts, because I support any nation or region working to create an environmentally conscious community. However, I have difficulty accepting it when they still rely so heavily on fossil fuels. If you want to decrease your emissions, and you realize the catastrophic effects such emissions has on the Earth and the future, why wait? The EU has recognized its faults, made a plan of carbon reduction, yet still maintains its past practices. This to me is frustrating. In this passage it states that the EU's efforts to reduce their emissions could possibly influence the likes of the United States, and if the US catches on, China could as well. As long as the EU relies on fossil fuels, all industrialized countries will follow suit; remaining on the current path of fossil fuel dominance and environmental degradation.

Anonymous said...

Reading this article I could clearly feel the doubt in the author's tone. European Nations have always been at the forefront of innovation in relation the sustainability, and as the author says, I can only hope that they are able to lead in this change. The main goal of underdeveloped nations is to industrialize and westernize themselves. If we as developed nations find a better way to get and stay out of poverty, the rest of the world will follow our lead. Although the numbers suggested in this conference sound promising and give me hope, actions speak louder than words. The initiatives proposed in the past, on a global and national scale including the Kyoto Protocol and even the Clean Water Act, respectively, serve as proof that there is a very slim chance that the governments in charge of implementing and enforcing these goals and regulations will actually do so. I believe this is a great place to start, and I am very pleased that the European Union is taking the initiative.

-Haylei P.

Anonymous said...

Go Europe! Even though at the end of this article tells of the bad parts of Europe's plan for the environment, at least they are trying to change. It seems like they are really trying to make changes instead of just toying around to make it look like they are. Fixing our environmental issues will be a trial and error process. (Unfortunately we don't have much time for error.) That is what Europe is doing. They are implementing things that are actually lowering the emissions. Europe is actually writing out plans and seeing what is working. This is what needs to be done. The article says that developing countries say that Europe should be cleaning it up because they are historically responsible. Whether that is right or wrong, Europe is putting forth the best efforts out of everybody to change our environmental problems. I really think that Europe is setting a great example and hope that others see that and begin to follow suit.

Mikayla Bonnett

Anonymous said...

This article shows the possibilities that can come to our enironmental future. Europe is massive and reducing their emissions by 40% by 2030 would be a huge beneficial impact. The green lobbyist want more; which is completely understandable: it is their job to want more. Hopefully, these efforts transfer over to American way of life.

Nicole Virgona

Sulana Robinson said...

The work that Europe has done so far is so impactful that most of us are aware of it. I've been hearing a lot about that region and their efforts to keep clean air etc and it truly has brought amazing results. I think thats wonderful and that maybe not just me as an individual, but others will also feel inspired to reduce emissions even more.

Maria-Vitoria Bernardes said...


This article displays hope for a better or more improved environmental future. I think that what Europe is doing is great and certainly a start. The fact that they are actually being active in doing such things is the most important thing. The article notes how Europe's head of government agreed on a climate and energy package that obliges the EU to ensure that by 2030 it's emissions of greenhouse gasses will be atleast 40 percent lower then in the 1990s. I think that that is absolutly fantastic.Even though the author points out about failures of the past with conferences and recessions, the fact that they are trying is what is important and what matters. Hopefully the United states can establish such goals for our future.


Maria-Vitoria Bernardes

Gian Joseph said...

I believe that turning green and moving away from coal energy and fossil fuel energy. I feel that the more developed countries will have the money to develop the technology to move away from coal use, but developing countries do not have that kind of wealth. Since already developed countries have built their wealth on the use of fossil fuels, it will be easier to them. But right now for developing countries, the only thing they are depending on is the use of fossil fuels for accumulation of wealth. I think that if we really want to move toward green energy, it will have to be the responsibility of developed countries to help gear the rest of the under-developed world into the same path

Anonymous said...

Although the author is doubtful that the EU can bring about the massive change they say they will, I still believe that their steps are steps in the right direction. Their goals are hopeful but unfortunately there are a lot of obstacles that have to be knocked down if they are to successfully reach an agreement in 2015. The economy plays a big role; when money is tight, the environment is placed on the back burner. However, what we fail to realize is that if we spend the money to reduce emissions now, it can save us from spending much more money down the road when the effects of climate change hit us harder. Hopefully, the skeptics are wrong and the EU's 2015 conference will be a success and will inspire other world leaders to take similar steps.
-Emma Weis

Ashley Unangst said...

"Europe is actually burning more coal than ever." This was the end of all hope in this article. While it's all fine and dandy that the EU has high hopes and COULD be a good influence, it's kind of hard to back themselves up when you find out that they're heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Also, as the article mentioned, the EU, while it does have influence and power, it could never overpower countries such as America and China.

The EU's plans are great in writing, just as any other generic plan to solve climate change (as if...) are. These plans need to be acted upon, and scientists arguing at conferences halting all progress isn't the best way to start. I would think those conferences the author speaks of would be places of success, not disaster.

Anonymous said...

This article gives us hope, yes, in the world of environmentalism and reducing carbon emissions, however I do not believe, with the regulations in place right now, it is forever. Because of Europe's recession, their economy has been declining, allowing for more environmental change. However, total environmental turn around will not go all the way without the commitment of countries like china and the US. The world economy largely relies on these to to help other economies and without cutback from these countries, there will be less incentive for other countries to cut back voluntarily as well. The EU has posed as a good example, however, like we have seen in the recent climate summits, nothing other places in the world has really been solved. Even though the EU is doing it's best, there needs to e other ways to push larger economies to follow suit.
Leanna Molnar

Anonymous said...

Europe's plans on lower greenhouse gasses is a good step but its a baby step. Having the greenhouse emissions lower by 40% over the span of 40 years is not impressive and hopefully that percentage will increase before 2030. It is a step in the right direction, though. Europe is setting themselves up to be a good example to larger countries such as America and China. Once they get on board with these same ideals the world will start to change radically. It's a difficult process especially with the state of Europe's economy. People would much rather be able to find jobs than to focus on the issues of the environment. Although we depend upon the Earth for all of our needs it gets the boot when put next to our need to make money.

- Juliana Cesario

Maria Hernandez-Norris said...

The fact that Spain and Portugal are readily and regularly outsourcing energy is fascinating to me. Is this not progressive? Do they regularly store reusable energy? Is this something we can do? In asking these questions I couldn’t agree more that Europe is setting an example for the rest of the world. I can almost agree with Nick when he talks about how it gives him hope. If big nations like the United States of America, China and eventually Brazil, those would be big steps in an improvement in the global environments. This article gave me a glimpse at how local policy and action can affect us globally. I see this particularly when it comes to the US in the future - city policies become local policies become national and international policies which become global policies. In many ways, green is a chance for peace.

- MHN

Anonymous said...

Decreasing carbon emissions is necessary in the EU, but also throughout the world. I think the EU sets a good example by agreeing to cut their carbon emissions. This being said, I believe that the EU must agree to accomplish higher standards at the conference in Paris 2015. If the EU agrees to significantly decrease carbon emissions more than currently, then I believe that it will put pressure on other countries such as the U.S. and China. I think the best way to decrease carbon emissions in the EU and other countries is by changing the permits. In the article the author describes: "The market is massively oversupplied with permits which now trade for little more than $7.60 a ton." If we are able to double the price of these permits, I believe we will start to see a move in the right direction.

-Frazer Winsted

Anonymous said...

I think it's great that EU is trying to reduce their carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. In these economically troubling times, it is very difficult to try and imagine cutting carbon emissions without thinking of the excess costs associated with trying to green a business or even an entire country. The expenses associated with greener industry makes it very difficult to persuade big businesses and corporations to make the switch and reduce their emissions and impacts on the environment. However it is becoming increasingly important that we do something about our emissions and start trying to lower the impact we are having on the environment. The anthropocentric climate change that is being caused is happening and we are doing nothing to try and stop or change it. Someone needs to speak up and say something about this and turn those words into actions, which is why I think it is so important that the EU is aiming to reduce their emissions by 40%. If they can do it, why can't other countries follow suit?

-Marrina Gallant

Dylan Hirsch said...

The EU decision to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is - obviously - a step in the right direction but only that: a step. In order for our environmental crisis to be solved, will take the combined efforts of all the nations of the world, specifically the US and China, to reduce their emissions. The EU's decision to reduce emissions are in many ways an example for the rest of the world, but with there looming recession and exploding inflation, this can be an off putting method. Again, I think its important to portray a sense of hope for this environmental crisis, but I would disagree when the author states that these nations have come anywhere close to solving their environmental problems.

- Dylan Hirsch

Michael Tierney said...

So this article is talking about the EU's role in environmentalism with cutting emissions, reducing the fossil fuel consumption, and other things. Europe has always been "ahead" of America in the "green industry" however, this article seems to give me a different idea of them. It seems as if Europe plans a majority of its green plans well far in advance when really, we need to set limitations and abide by reduction plans immediately. Even though Europe's emissions are below America's, they still give breaks to coal industries and other fossil fuel using industries more than what I believe we have in America. If Europe is still giving cuts and breaks to these commodities, how come they are still the leaders in environmentalism? I see a lot of planning and not much action, however I do understand how much they have reduced and they have led our way to a better cure for our poor use of fuels. They need to continue to meet and plan better requirements for the CO2 emissions, but there must be a better conclusion to the meet in Paris next December. Hopefully, we will be seeing more reduction and better solutions to our fossil fuel problems.
--Michael Tierney

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Anonymous said...

I think that while there is hope for some sort of emission level change by 2020, it is not a hopeful outlook. The goals that they are setting, while achievable, are too low. They are too comfortable. While they will indeed reach these goals, they will do little in regards to slowing down climate change. They will also be ineffective in being an example for other nations to follow behind, as it will show them that easy, mediocre change is the apparent answer to one of the most serious problems in history. It is a step in the right direction, however, it is not nearly a large enough one.

-Elizabeth Eggimann