Climate Change ed Europa
Climate change is already happening and represents one of the greatest environmental, social and economic threats facing the planet. The European Union is committed to working constructively for a global agreement to control climate change, and is leading the way by taking ambitious action of its own.
The warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level. The Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by 0.76° C since 1850. Most of the warming that has occurred over the last 50 years is very likely to have been caused by human activities.
In its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), published in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that, without further action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the global average surface temperature is likely to rise by a further 1.8-4.0°C this century, and by up to 6.4°C in the worst case scenario. Even the lower end of this range would take the temperature increase since pre-industrial times above 2°C – the threshold beyond which irreversible and possibly catastrophic changes become far more likely.
Projected global warming this century is likely to trigger serious consequences for mankind and other life forms, including a rise in sea levels of between 18 and 59 cm which will endanger coastal areas and small islands, and a greater frequency and severity of extreme weather events.
Human activities that contribute to climate change include in particular the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and land-use changes like deforestation. These cause emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main gas responsible for climate change, as well as of other ‘greenhouse’ gases. To bring climate change to a halt, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced significantly.
The European Union has long been at the forefront of international efforts to combat climate change and has played a key role in the development of the two major treaties addressing the issue, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997.
The EU has been taking serious steps to address its own greenhouse gas emissions since the early 1990s. In 2000 the Commission launched the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP). The ECCP has led to the adoption of a wide range of new policies and measures. These include the pioneering EU Emissions Trading System, which has become the cornerstone of EU efforts to reduce emissions cost-effectively, and legislation to tackle emissions of fluorinated greenhouse gases.
Monitoring data and projections indicate that the 15 countries that were EU members at the time of the EU’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 will reach their Kyoto Protocol target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This requires emissions in 2008-2012 to be 8% below 1990 levels.
However, Kyoto is only a first step and its targets expire in 2012. International negotiations are now taking place under the UNFCCC with the goal of reaching a global agreement governing action to address climate change after 2012.
In January 2007, as part of an integrated climate change and energy policy, the European Commission set out proposals and options for an ambitious global agreement in its Communication “Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius: The way ahead for 2020 and beyond”.
EU leaders endorsed this vision in March 2007. They committed the EU to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% of 1990 levels by 2020 provided other developed countries commit to making comparable reductions under a global agreement. And to start transforming Europe into a highly energy-efficient, low-carbon economy, they committed to cutting emissions by at least 20% independently of what other countries decide to do.
To underpin these commitments, EU leaders set three key targets to be met by 2020: a 20% reduction in energy consumption compared with projected trends; an increase to 20% in renewable energies’ share of total energy consumption; and an increase to 10% in the share of petrol and diesel consumption from sustainably-produced biofuels.
In January 2008 the Commission proposed a major package of climate and energy-related legislative proposals to implement these commitments and targets. These are now being discussed by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, and EU leaders have expressed their wish for agreement to be reached on the package before the end of 2008.