The European Commission 2030 emission reduction targets are inadequate

Published by Conor Mulvihill on

20th of July 2016

Today the European Commission published its proposal for the Effort Sharing Regulation and the rules for accounting the land use, land use change and forestry sector (LULUCF) up to 2030 only seven months after the Paris Agreement. This is a significantly important proposal. However instead of following the example set by Paris, the Commission has instead decided to follow the path of least resistance set by EU member states. The LULUCF section is why Ireland’s target is only 30% because our economy is so dependent on areas such as agriculture. Edna Kenny has made continuous appeals for Ireland to be treated as a special case because we are so dependent on agriculture, and we have the lowest carbon footprint dairy and the fifth lowest carbon footprint beef production in Europe, however they are still very carbon intensive products.

Faustine Bas-Defossez, Senior Agriculture Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), added:

“The Commission could have made use of its flagship climate policy to help set our broken farming system on the right path towards sustainability. Instead it has decided to allow intensive and environmentally-harmful farming practices to continue expanding. Worse still, this new proposal will allow Member States to artificially offset farm emissions by claiming carbon credits from afforestation. This trick is a slap in the face to the EU’s climate objectives and is bad news for the environment as a whole.”

The Effort Sharing Regulations was set up to reduce emissions from areas such as transport, buildings and farming, which are major contributors to global warming.  The aim of the regulations was to reverse an EU-wide target of 30% greenhouse gas reduction compared to 2005 levels by 2030 for the 28 member states, which must agree an identical text with MEPs before it can become law. These cuts are necessary in order for the EU to reach their 2030 targets of a 40% reduction, in comparison to 1990 levels, in greenhouse gas emissions. This is essential if the bloc keeps to the climate commitments it made at the UN Climate Change Conference.

The LULUCF sector covers emission by the removal or release of carbon from the atmosphere through natural processes such as via forestry or releasing soil Carbon. The Effort Sharing Regulation will bring LULUCF into EU law for the first time. It was governed by the 2nd commitment period of the UN Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2020. But Kyoto’s accounting rules and its use of a ‘business as usual’ baseline leaves it open to exploitation. By emphasizing how its “business as usual” logging, enables governments to add up millions of euros worth of carbon credits by simply not hitting their timber-felling targets. The Commission will introduce tougher accounting rules and will not allow forest management to be taken into account in a bid to head off abuse.  There is no reliable EU-wide data on forest management, which led to the decision to exclude it. Reporting periods for forestry will also be revised to make them more representative of the reality on the ground.

The draft Effort Sharing Regulation offers countries flexibility in deciding how to make their contribution to a binding EU-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in sectors not covered by the EU’s Emission Trading System (ETS). Agriculture, transport and buildings are the only three major sectors currently not regulated under the ETS, which caps emissions form large industrial installations such as steelmaking and power generation plants. The European Commission has said that such ‘non-ETS’ sectors must cut their emissions by 30% compared to 2005 levels by 2030. Road transport, for example, accounts for a fifth of EU carbon dioxide emissions, and agriculture is responsible for 9.6% of EU greenhouse gases. Member states will be given autonomy to decide how much each sector contributes to their target, and to buy and sell carbon allocations to each other, under the draft bill. This measure will encourage investment in low-carbon technology, it is hoped.

Real climate ambition means fixing Europe’s building stock, switching to clean transportation, transforming Europe’s agriculture and putting energy efficiency first. A clear signal of change will trigger investments and jobs in Europe.  For truly positive results, the level of effort should be substantially increased from  the current -30% target to well beyond -45% emission reductions by 2030.

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Conor Mulvihill

Conor is Communications Assistant with the Irish Environmental Network. His background is in science and he has a masters in international relations.