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Europe will continue to lead the global clean energy revolution

Submitted by on 30 Mar 2016 – 10:20

 The European Union has played a key role in brokering the historic agreement in Paris, where 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal.  In an exclusive interview with Government Gazette, Jos Delbeke, Director-General, European Commission’s Directorate for Climate Action & Energy explains the Commission’s priorities in the new agreement

Jos Delbeke Following limited participation in the Kyoto Protocol and the lack of agreement in Copenhagen in 2009, the EU has been building a broad coalition of developed and developing countries in favour of high ambition that shaped the successful outcome of the Paris conference. One of the aims of the agreement is to make financial flows consistent with the global goal towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilient development.

Shifting private and public investment towards low-emission and climate resilient technologies over the coming decade will be key to reducing emissions and adapting to climate change. In an exclusive interview with Janani Krishnaswamy, Commissioning Editor, Government Gazette, Director-General Jos Delbeke discusses the next steps of the European Commission in implementing the deal.

With regard to the Paris negotiations, can you elaborate on the Commission’s priorities and ambitious objectives in the new agreement, and tell us how different this is from the Kyoto Protocol?

The Paris agreement is the world’s first universal, legally binding climate deal, which makes it a critical turning point in the fight against climate change.

Going to Paris, the European Union wanted an ambitious, transparent and fair agreement that is legally binding and applicable to all parties – and that is what we got. The agreement includes an operational, long-term emissions reduction goal, a review mechanism to strengthen ambition over time, and a common transparency and accountability system to track progress. It also ensures support for vulnerable countries.
A key achievement of the Paris conference is that we are moving from “action by few” to “action by all.” The focus is shifting from ideological debates about which countries should bear the burden of fighting climate change towards cooperation and collective efforts.

More than 180 countries, representing more than 95% of global emissions, have submitted national climate action plans as their contribution to the agreement. This can be considered a major progress compared to what we had before.

How do you think Europeans can contribute to the change? How can Europe lead the global fight against climate change?

Europe has long been at the forefront of international efforts to fight climate change, and we can be proud of the active and constructive role the European Union played to reach a good outcome in Paris.

The EU has the most ambitious climate policies in the world. What’s more, we have shown that climate protection and economic growth go hand in hand. Between 1990 and 2014, our emissions fell by 23% while our GDP increased by 46%.

We are making good progress, but we know we need to do much more. This is reflected in our- target of reducing emissions by at least 40% by 2030 – part of our contribution to the Paris agreement. We have already started to put measures in place to implement this pledge and accelerate the transition to clean energy and a low-carbon economy. For example, we already made a proposal on the revision of the EU emissions trading system for the period after 2020 to ensure it delivers the required greenhouse gas emission reductions to reach our 2030 target.

Surveys show that European citizens are on board for climate action. In a recent EU-wide Eurobarometer survey, 91% of them have said they see climate change as a serious problem. People are also taking action in their daily lives: 93% said they had already taken some action against climate change, such as reducing and recycling waste and trying to cut their use of disposable items.

The Paris accord claims to accelerate shift in capital spent on adapting to the effects of climate change. Can you elaborate some of Europe’s immediate plans?

The importance of strengthening the ability of societies in coping with negative impacts of climate change is reflected in the Paris agreement. The EU is the largest contributor of international climate finance and has committed to further scale up support. Financial and technical support for adaptation action comes via a number of different channels, including bilateral government agreements, non-governmental organisations and the private sector, as well as a range of multilateral institutions and funds.
The most significant source of public adaptation finance from the EU and its member states to developing countries comes through bilateral assistance programmes. Furthermore, it is important to integrate adaptation to climate change into private and public sector investments in all countries.

Adaptation action is also needed in Europe. The European Commission has adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, and many countries have national strategies. Adaptation is also tackled at local and regional level in Europe – it is a key part of initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors, which brings together thousands of local and regional authorities across Europe for climate action and sustainable energy.

While representatives from the vast majority of countries party to the agreement walked away satisfied, some of them have criticized the deal as too weak and for not providing enough support for developing countries. What do you have to say about this?

Despite any such differences, one of the aims of the Paris agreement is to make financial flows consistent with our goal towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilient development. Shifting private and public investment towards low-emission and climate resilient technologies over the coming decade will be key to reducing emissions and adapting to climate change.

Moreover, the Paris deal includes a solidarity package which ensures support for vulnerable countries. Developed countries committed to a goal of mobilising USD 100 billion per year from 2020 to 2025 in the context of meaningful and transparent mitigation actions.
The EU is committed to delivering its fair share of this goal. In 2014 alone, the EU and its member states provided EUR 14.5 billion to support climate action in developing countries. Between now and 2020, at least 20% of the EU budget will be spent on climate action. This means that the EU budget alone will provide an average of EUR 2 billion of grants per year to support climate action in developing countries – more than double compared to the average level in 2012-2013.

A new goal for international support will be set before 2025, widening the donor base. This makes clear sense: all those who can participate in the overall effort should do so. This also means unlocking more private finance, which will be key to scaling up investments in climate-smart development across the world.

What role will technology play in achieving global climate goals?

In Paris, governments agreed to limit global temperature rise to “well below 2°C” and make efforts to limit the rise to 1.5°C. These are ambitious goals. Keeping the rise below 1.5°C will require a trajectory of full decarbonisation and accelerated strategies and pathways to achieve this goal.

Research, innovation and investment in low-carbon technologies will be essential to find the ground-breaking solutions needed to tackle this challenge. The International Energy Agency estimates that the implementation of the national climate plans submitted by countries – the intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs – will mean 13.5 trillion dollars of investment in low-carbon technologies, renewables and energy efficiency over the next 15 years. Crucially much of this replaces investments that might otherwise be made in fossil fuels, while many, especially in energy efficiency, can ultimately pay for themselves.

However, keeping temperature rise below 2°C means going beyond the INDCs, and for this we need to develop and deploy innovative technologies across the global economy, the most obvious example being carbon capture and storage (CCS). The EU is well placed to take a share of these new opportunities. We are among world leaders in areas such as low-carbon industry process technologies and renewable energy technologies – but we need to keep innovating to stay in the lead.