EU ministers say emission rights auction must go ahead
Credit crisis or no credit crisis, the European environment ministers want to forge ahead with the auction of CO2 emission rights to industry.
Credit crisis or no credit crisis, the European environment ministers want to forge ahead with the auction of CO2 emission rights to industry. This was the outcome of Monday's EU environmental council meeting.
The emission rights form the backbone of European attempts to limit global warming. But will it be enough?
So far, emission rights have been free of charge, but as early as 2013, industry will have to purchase 20 percent of its emission rights, with the amount increasing to 100 percent in 2020. Only industrial corporations with competitors outside Europe will continue to be granted emission rights without payment. The European environmental council appears not to have found the financial crisis a reason to mitigate its policy.
On Monday, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) published a report which included new scientific data showing that the climate is in even worse shape than previously thought. The climate report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in January 2007, and thought shocking enough at the time, is already out of date. The new report indicates that there will be no more ice at the North Pole 30 years earlier than previously forecast. Sea level will be 1.2 metres above its current level by the end of this century, twice as high as estimated by the IPCC in 2007.
IPCC a bit slow
Belgian environmental scientist Professor Jean Pascal van Ypersele, the IPCC's deputy chairman, subscribes to the WWF report. He explains why his own organisation was apparently a little slow in catching on to the seriousness of the situation.....
"The IPCC reports are based on scientific literature, and it often takes as much as two years to get these scientific texts published. Putting together the IPCC report itself also takes time, usually at least 6 months. Now, the WWF report is based on much more recent information which was not yet available at the time the previous report was published."
The WWF report only serves to paint an even gloomier picture of the future. It says Western Europe will be confronted by an increased number of even severer storms. More rainfall will result in flooding. Temperatures in the North Sea and Baltic Sea areas will rise above historic levels. The glaciers in the Swiss Alps will continue to melt, leading to reduced production of clean power by hydraulic power plants. The report also argues that recent increases in temperatures have already led to disappointing grain harvests.
The European Union currently has two climate goals. The official and older political goal, which dates back to 1996, aims to stabilise temperatures at a level less than two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. To achieve this goal, the EU has decided to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent of the 1990 levels by 2020. In addition, Europe has pledged to reduce the emissions to 70 percent of the 1990 levels if other major industrial nations worldwide also reduce their emissions by 20 percent.
However, Professor van Ypersele says this is not nearly enough, even on the basis of the estimates in the rather cautious IPCC report.
"In its 2007 report, the IPCC says that, if an increase in temperature of no more than two percent is the objective, the industrialised nations must reduce emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020, instead of 20 percent. In other words, the climate goal of 20 percent is already inadequate, and that's without taking the WWF report into account, which shows the situation is actually far more serious."
The WWF wants Europe to move forward quickly and substantially reduce its emissions. Climate expert Sam van den Plas says the EU should accept its responsibility:
"If Europe wants to be in the vanguard, and if it wants to conclude a global agreement to tackle the climate problem, it must reduce emissions by 30 percent as soon as possible."
As for the credit crisis, will it prove to be the nemesis of the environment after all? Professor Van Ypersele argues that the impending economic crisis offers opportunities, and he did not make that up himself. He points to remarks made by climate guru and former US vice president Al Gore, who visited the Netherlands last week.
"Because the time will come when we have to revitalise the economy, probably by means of major investments, we now have an opportunity to use those investments to protect the climate. So, instead of building more motorways, we could make a choice for large-scale insulation of buildings. We can make industry much more energy-efficient; all kinds of projects are possible to improve the climate and jump-start the economy at the same time."