BY: YAELA COLLINS
In 2015, the European Union (EU) leadership committed to reducing domestic emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 as outlined in the Paris Agreement. Promises to roll out initiatives to minimize global temperature increases and adopt national climate actions plans (INDCs) were also notable elements of the accord.
As of November 2018, the European Union’s Climate Action Tracker (CAT) indicated that the bloc’s implemented efforts were not compatible with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature increase ceiling. Other issues of significant concern to the CAT include an increase of emissions in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) sector, highlighting the need for a regional coal phase-out and a refocus on renewable energy development.
Several days before the COP24 climate summit in Poland, the European Commission released a proposal that called for emissions to be net zero by 2050. European leaders appear to believe this ambitious plan is achievable, despite their inability to achieve the Paris targets. Highlights of the nonbinding action plan include: a reduction in fossil fuel use for electricity production; an increase of over USD $100 billion in clean energy investments; the promotion of net zero carbon fuels; shifts to low-carbon public transportation. The new strategy will increase the pressure on member states to enhance their climate efforts, but it faces major hurdles including goal compliance and overall EU buy-in.
Germany, the most prominent bearer of the “green” flag in Europe, is projected to fall short of its 2020 emissions goals. Although the majority of Germany’s political parties recognize climate change as a major problem, the far-right AfD has been largely outspoken, stating that the issue has been hyperbolized and should not be of grave concern. Germany tried to offset its sub-par performance by doubling its contribution to the United Nation’s Climate Change Fund. This may work to set an unhealthy precedent that wealthy European countries can supplant meaningful action with philanthropy.
For countries that are more financially strained, like Poland, the new climate scheme will likely be met with some resistance. When Poland first became a modern state in 1989, coal accounted for almost 100 percent of the country’s energy mix. Reliance on coal has not yet been drastically reduced as only 20 percent of the country’s power comes from other sources. Poland is striving to reduce coal reliance to 60 percent by 2030. Other countries that have not considered a total phase out include Serbia, Greece, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, and Bosnia.
While the EU’s goals are admirable, the region does not have the best track record when it comes to meeting their climate targets. As the COP24 commences and pressure for further reform mounts, close monitoring of progress will be paramount in ensuring that the EU does not become a mascot for empty promises.
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Yaela Collins is currently working at The Bassiouni Group where she engages in security and development research and business management consulting focused on sustainability. She received her BA in International Relations with a focus on Developing World from the State University of New York College at Geneseo and a M.S. in Global Affairs from New York University.
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