Amid the daily political pronouncements and heavy media coverage characterizing the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate conference, some may think the event’s importance is being overdone. But this time the attention is more than warranted.
An agreement at Copenhagen is imperative to prevent global warming from reaching dangerous levels that could trigger irreversible and catastrophic changes to the conditions of life on our planet, as well as devastating economic consequences.
I say this for two reasons. First, the world is already 0.8°C warmer than in pre-industrial times, and scientific projections show that if we continue to emit greenhouse gases in increasing quantities global temperature increases will reach dangerous levels later this century – perhaps by as early as 2050. To change course, we have to take decisive action now.
Second, the Kyoto Protocol was agreed upon 12 years ago and entered into force in 2005. Since then, however, new robust and conclusive science has emerged. The case for prompt and bold action is not only environmentally compelling but is equally convincing from an economic standpoint.
For these reasons, the Copenhagen conference must produce an agreement that is global, comprehensive and sufficiently ambitious to keep global average temperature increases to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The leaders of the G8 and Major Economies Forum countries endorsed the 2°C limit at their summit in July: this must now become a shared objective of all nations and guide us in deciding the necessary level of action, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.
What we need from Copenhagen is a roadmap to a low-carbon global economy. The agreement must shift global emissions off their ever-rising path and onto a new trajectory that sees them peak by 2020 at the latest, fall by at least half of 1990 levels by 2050 and continue dropping thereafter.
This shift requires a global effort built on three key elements. First, science tells us that industrialized nations must cut their collective emissions to 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. Second, developing countries as a group – and above all the big emerging economies – need to keep their rapid emissions growth to 15-30 per cent below business as usual levels in 2020. And third, the industrialized world must provide substantial financial and technical assistance to help developing countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, to tackle their emissions and adapt to climate change.
The European Union is implementing binding measures to cut emissions by at least 20 per cent; we are committed to a 30 per cent reduction provided notably that among other things, other industrialized countries sign up to comparable efforts. We are also committed to providing our fair share of the finance needed to assist developing countries.
Bringing down the curtain on the high-carbon era is a real challenge, but a wealth of analysis indicates it is technically feasible and economically affordable. Whereas postponing or going for insufficiently ambitious action would lead to increased costs and place a further burden on our economy, taking decisive steps now to build a low-carbon economy will bring many new opportunities. It will unleash a surge of innovation in clean new technologies and products that will both stimulate and “green” our economies by creating new sources of environmentally sustainable growth and jobs.
With the measures we are taking, the EU has seized a first-mover advantage in this race that will benefit European businesses. The low-carbon roadmap that Copenhagen must produce will trigger a global effort to reduce emissions – and create a global market for the products and technologies that do so.
Stavros Dimas has been European Commissioner for Environment since 2004.