What's New in the EU: Post-2012 Kyoto Protocol

The European Commission launches a public consultation on the EU's approach to the Kyoto agreement.

eu flag biz 88 (photo credit: )
eu flag biz 88
(photo credit: )
The European Commission this week launched a public consultation on the European Union's approach to a global climate-change agreement up to and beyond 2012, when the current Kyoto Protocol targets will end. Stakeholders and the general public were invited to put forward their views on a number of critical issues, such as mid-term emission-reduction targets for developed countries and emission-reduction actions for developing countries, adaptation to climate change, technology cooperation and finance. The results of the survey are to help shape the EU's position on the global post-2012 agreement. The consultation follows the commission's January 2007 communication "Limiting global climate change to 2 degrees Celsius: The way ahead for 2020 and beyond." Stakeholders are being asked for their views on the different building blocks of the Bali road map. These include a shared vision guiding commitments to mid-term targets by developed countries and greater collaboration on emission reduction and adaptation to climate change with the support of technology and finance. The commission says it welcomes comments from all interested parties, including individual citizens, industry, trade unions, consumer representatives, interest groups, the NGO community and other organizations. A conference for stakeholders is planned for this autumn. The consultation runs until September 29. The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was a vital first step in addressing the serious threat of climate change. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent, compared to 1990 levels, between 2008 and 2012. Last December, at the UN conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia, participating countries set out an action plan for an agreement on a post-2012 framework, to be completed by 2009 when the UNFCCC parties meet in Copenhagen. Climate change is said to be already happening; some think it represents one of the greatest environmental, social and economic threats facing the planet. The European Union says it is committed to working constructively for a global agreement to control climate change, and says it is leading the way by taking ambitious action of its own. Many reports warn that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising sea levels. The Earth's average surface temperature has risen by 0.76° 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, published in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 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° this century, and by up to 6.4° in the worst-case scenario. Even the lower end of this range would take the temperature increase since pre-industrial times above 2° - 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 centimeters and 59 cm., which will endanger coastal areas and small islands, and a greater frequency and severity of extreme weather events. The EU has been taking steps to address its own greenhouse-gas emissions since the early 1990s. In 2000 the commission launched the European Climate Change Program, which 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 costs effectively, and legislation to tackle emissions of fluorinated greenhouse gases. According to European reports, 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. But 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. EU leaders in March 2007 committed the EU to cutting 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. Last January 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. syrquin@013.net Ari Syrquin is the head of GSCB Law Firm's International Department.