Strengthening EU emissions targets must remain top priority

The question of increasing the EU`s emissions reduction target from its current 20% to 30% by 2020 (from 1990 levels) remains open. While the issue was on top of the agenda for EU environment ministers in Seville last weekend, divisions between the member states continued to prevent any agreement.

As we have noted, the EU`s negotiating position (or `pledges`) in the UN climate negotiations has hardly changed in two years.

Immediately stepping up the EU emissions reduction to target from 20% to 30% would be a statement of intent and a true demonstration of leadership from the EU (which has failed to live up to its claim of climate leadership over the past 18 months). This would help restore its credibility in the UN climate process and help to rebuild the trust of the developing countries and the emerging economies.

A paper presented by the Dutch government to environment ministers last weekend seems to justify the shift to 30% now, based on the EU`s comparability criterion. There has been a lot of research done that shows how the EU 20% target is not ambitious (notably a paper presented to ministers last weekend by the EEB) and will be achieved with little or no effort due to the economic downturn (see also a study by Ecofys presented by the Greens). There has also been plenty of research showing the benefits - in terms of job creation, for example - of increasing to at least a 30% target.

With such overwhelming evidence existing, Poland and Italy should not be allowed to continue to hold back the EU. It is certainly encouraging that many EU member states are continuing to press this but a solution to this decision making hold-up must be found as soon as possible.

Although the status of the Copenhagen Accord is unclear (although a `non-paper` by the EU Commission sees it as an important focus of EU strategy), its deadline of 31 January for industrialised countries to officially submit their emissions pledges for inclusion in an annex to the accord, would be the perfect opportunity. Clearly, a binding deal under the UN process remains the only way to reach the necessary global agreement on climate change.

It is important to remember that even a 30% target for the EU would be far from ambitious. It would clearly fall far short of the EU`s responsibility if it is serious about limiting warming to below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The EU would need to step up to a 40% reduction target to be consistent with its responsibility under the recommendations outlined by the scientific consensus in the IPCC`s 4th Assessment Report. Despite all the talk of 30%, we must not lose sight of this.