The EU’s Role in Lima and Paris

The 2014 UN Climate Change Conference, held between the 1st and 12th of December in Lima, Peru, acts as a forum for nations to make a collective decision on climate action, and identify the crucial elements needed for a binding climate agreement at the next Conference in Paris 2015. Climate change is one of the most significant challenges of the 21st century – socially, economically and politically – presenting high risks to international security that require comprehensive policy responses. It is more important than ever that emission reduction commitments are made, and Paris 2015 is set to be the first time ever that all 195 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will agree on legally binding targets. The effects of climate change are already being seen, especially in Peru, a biodiverse country threatened by environmental damage. Progress has been made since the 2009 Climate Conference held in Copenhagen, with almost 500 climate laws being passed in 66 countries, and about 40 nations putting a price on carbon emissions. But the longer global leaders delay action to tackle climate change, the faster we will need to work.

Measures to reduce global temperatures to 2C above pre-industrial levels have been rendered unsatisfactory by the UN Environment Programme. The opportunity to commit to legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gases in Paris next year cannot be missed. Following on from a recent surprise agreement to reduce greenhouse gases between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the EU, as the third highest carbon emitter behind the US and China, needs to be ambitious in its targets in Lima and Paris.

The EU has frequently been referred to as a leader in climate change policy, with emphasis on its status as a leader by example. The EU’s ambitious work on climate policy and system of coordination between institutions and member states has allowed the EU to achieve coherence as an international leader in climate change, and Kyoto targets would not have been so high if it had not been for the EU. Following this, in support of the Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the EU pledged to meet its “20-20-20” targets: a 20% greenhouse gas emission reduction from 1990 levels; to raise the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable energy sources to 20%; and a 20% improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency.

The EU’s status as an international leader in global climate policy means that it should use climate talks in Lima and Paris as an opportunity to point the world in the right direction, but will the EU still wield this power in the run up to Paris, and discussions in Lima of long-term targets for CO2 emissions? Earlier in 2014, the EU voted for legally binding targets of a 40% cut in CO2 emissions, a 40% target for energy efficiency, and a 30% share of renewable energy consumption by 2030, goals that they will take to Lima as the first nation to declare targets ahead of the Conference. On day one of the Conference, the EU pledged for “legally binding mitigation targets” to reduce emissions, citing legal action and accountability. Conversely, the US has favoured the “buffet option”, which still includes legally binding action, but would allow countries the discretion to establish the scale of reduction targets. Relations between China and the US also undermine the EU’s position as climate leader, and concerns have been voiced that a 40% reduction target is not enough to reach the 2C limit.

The 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference was a poignant reminder that leaders will struggle to reach a global deal – however there is optimism surrounding the EU’s policies to reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency through a plausible decarbonisation pathway. By pursuing legally binding emissions cuts in Lima, the momentum of climate action picks up and progress is made towards Paris. The EU’s ambition in Lima to push for emissions mitigation policy is gaining traction, meaning there is hope that the world will reach a global agreement that could keep global temperatures within the 2C limit.