Science & Environment

EU should commit to tougher emissions target, say MPs

South Sudan flooding
Image caption Many poor countries see the 2015 deal as legally binding, not voluntary

The EU should vow tougher action on climate change to maintain political leadership, says a committee of MPs.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee report also says the UK government must aim to end fossil fuel subsidies and raise energy efficiency, saving money.

But it has come under fire for saying a prospective new UN emission-limiting deal, due in 2015, is "voluntary".

Meanwhile, the European Commission is set to unveil proposals to make the EU carbon market more effective.

The price for carbon "pollution permits" in the EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) has been bumping along at about seven euros per tonne, which analysts agree is far too low to stimulate meaningful investment in clean technology.

Environmental groups have long been urging the bloc to tighten its emission cutting targets from their current 20% to 30%, from 1990 to 2020.

Most EU governments and the commission are keen on the move, but have been stymied by the intransigence of Poland, a major coal producer.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee says the EU should make the change as soon as possible.

"Europe can be proud of the leadership it has showed on climate change... it must now show leadership again by setting a more ambitious goal to bolster the chances of a new agreement being reached in 2015," said chairman Tim Yeo MP.

"The current 20% target is no longer sufficiently ambitious or challenging, and will be easily reached because of the recession."

Other recommendations for the government include:

  • prioritising energy efficiency at UK and EU levels
  • supporting moves to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies globally while raising living standards for the poor
  • doing a better job of persuading the UK public that it is worth investing in low-carbon technologies.

The report also says that the government should continue to emphasise the primacy of the UN climate convention (UNFCCC) as the best forum for securing international agreement on curbing emissions and providing a mechanism for helping countries adapt to climate impacts.

Image caption Subsidies for fossil fuels should be phased out, the MPs say in their report

At December's UN summit in South Africa, governments agreed a new process - the Durban Platform - that will establish a new global deal involving every country's emissions by 2015, to come into force by 2020.

The committee argues that "The strength of the Durban Platform - unlike the Kyoto Protocol - is that it is based on voluntary commitments".

This is not how the process is seen within the European Commission - nor among the myriad small developing countries that pressed for the new agreement alongside the EU.

"Referring to the Durban Platform as 'voluntary' is a misunderstanding of what was agreed last year in Durban," said Dean Bialek of the diplomatic advisory group Independent Diplomat, an adviser to the Marshall Islands within the UN climate process.

"The Durban Platform is essentially a mandate to negotiate a new legally binding agreement at the international level by 2015, with everyone on board.

"It is a recognition that going forward, all major emitters need to take ambitious and binding emission reduction commitments if we're going to avert runaway climate change."

The UK government appears to agree.

In response to the committee's report, a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) sad this year's UN meeting in Qatar was important in "continuing to enhance the international climate change regime... and moving towards a legally binding agreement covering all countries".

Cooling on 'hot air'

Meanwhile, the European Commission will unveil on Wednesday proposals to make short-term changes to the ETS, the flagship European scheme for reducing emissions.

The economic recession has led to a surplus of emission allowances - "permits to pollute" - on the market, meaning it is generally cheaper for firms to release CO2 and pay the carbon price rather than clean up their emissions.

The commission will propose withholding some of the allowances it is due to issue for the period 2013-15, instead releasing them during 2016-20.

Allowances accounting for 5-15% of annual emissions from the industrial sectors involved in the ETS could be withheld.

Governments would have to sign the proposal off before the end of the year.

The commission regards this as a "short-term fix" for the ETS, and will produce separate proposals for longer-term reform in the next few months.

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