Europe submits UN climate pledges, calls on China and US to follow

The UN General Assembly hall in New York City. Creative Commons: Patrick Gruban, 2006

The UN General Assembly hall in New York City. Creative Commons: Patrick Gruban, 2006

Last Friday, the European Union has submitted its formal promise on greenhouse gases cuts to the United Nations ahead of the climate change talks starting in December.

As the first major economy to agree its position, the EU called on the US and China to follow its lead, in order to ensure a successful outcome of the UN climate summit; an effective, legally binding global climate change agreement with emission reduction commitments from all countries.

“We expect China, the United States and the other G20 countries in particular to follow the European Union and submit their contributions by the end of March,” Miguel Arias Cañete, EU Commissioner  for Climate and Energy, told reporters after a meeting of EU environment ministers in Brussels.

According to the US-China climate agreement from last November, the United States has pledged to cut its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, and China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, announced to cap emissions by 2030 or earlier if possible.

French Energy Minister Segolene Royal commented on the European agreement which had to reached by March 20 at the latest: “A very important step was taken today. This is a decisive, historic stage.”

She also said that Europe was taking up its responsibilities as host of the 2015 Paris climate conference.

The EU’s official contribution is a target of an at least 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990s levels.

The target was already set in last October, however, the details still needed to be agreed on by Europe’s environmental ministers.

According to the pledges submitted, the emission target has to be achieved domestically rather than through offsets that allow EU members to buy into carbon-cutting schemes outside of Europe.

EU diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the 40% target will have to be shared among member states, and talks on the details are only likely to begin after the Paris summit.

One option is to share the effort based on a member state’s GDP per capita.

However, climate campaigners have warned that the emissions cuts beyond 2020 fell far short of Europe’s fair share of the action needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

Susann Scherbarth, climate justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said:

There is a huge gap between what climate science and equity tells us Europe needs to do and the agreement of the ministers today. It is frustrating to hear our governments describe their climate pledges as ambitious when they are failing to move us away from fossil fuels fast enough.

Jason Anderson, head of EU Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office, said:

The EU needs to get its act together. Its leaders may be used to settling for weak compromises because of internal battles, but the outside world will show little understanding – they rightly expect Europe to stand on the high ground it claims at every UN conference, and not just to point up to it from below.

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