Ed Davey writes… Europe must stay ambitious on climate change

There has been a lot of talk over the last few weeks about Britain’s place in Europe, but there’s one thing that I hope we can all agree. We need the EU to help prevent climate change.

We are an island nation, a trading nation, dependent on the global market for prosperity – for food, for energy, for many of the products we rely on in. It is unsurprising that the UK was one of the first countries to recognise that significant climate change will directly affect our way of life. And we were the first country to bind ourselves to the low-carbon path through the 2008 Climate Change Act.

But acting alone will not solve the global problem. Successive Governments have recognised that the best way to tackle climate change, without threatening economic competitiveness, has been to work through the EU for a global climate deal – and making sure the EU leads by example.

As the climate talks in Durban in 2011 showed definitively, when negotiating with super-economies like China, India and the United States, we are far better off negotiating as a European bloc.

Why? Because together we represent 504 million people and 25% of the world’s GDP (compared with 63 million people and 3% of the world’s GDP as the UK alone). And because the action the EU is taking on emissions means we are able to negotiate from a position of authority.

In 2008, the EU led the world in tackling climate change by agreeing binding emissions reductions targets up to 2020. Emissions are down by over 17%, and this has had a galvanising effect on green growth in Europe. The European market for low carbon environmental goods and services grew by 3.5% to £740 billion in 2010/11 alone, positioning us for a global green market now at over £3.3 trillion.

But, as a bloc, we need to look further ahead than this 2020 horizon. When it comes to investment decisions on energy projects that will last into the middle of the century and beyond, 2020 is fast becoming the rear view mirror. So we need to move on to the next phase of agreements in Europe – to 2030 and beyond. And we need to do so in a context that is different to 2007 when the last agreement was being negotiated.

Then practically no EU Member State had established climate policies; most renewables technologies were immature; and we were at the peak of an economic boom. Now, six years later, renewable technology is maturing and other technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage and new nuclear are set to contribute to the low-carbon mix over the coming years. We are in a different economic environment that is challenging European countries to address competitiveness and growth.

So the UK will be arguing two things in the coming negotiations over the EU’s position for 2030.

First, the EU should adopt an ambitious emissions reduction target for 2030 of 50% on 1990 levels as part of Europe’s approach to the getting a global deal in 2015. And even if such a global deal doesn’t come about, the EU should aim for a unilateral 40% reduction. These targets are achievable, affordable and necessary if we are to limit climate change to manageable proportions.

Second, we need a technology neutral approach to how individual countries meet their emissions targets. We want to maintain flexibility for Member States in the exact energy mix they use. The UK is committed to increasing renewables in our own domestic energy mix. The tripling of support available for low carbon electricity through the £7.6bn Levy Control Framework provides an immediate boost. And the radical reforms to the electricity market set out in the Energy Bill will also incentivise renewables to 2020 and beyond.

Yet there are a variety of options to decarbonise any country’s energy: from energy efficiency to new nuclear; from carbon capture and storage to renewable heat. Countries should be free to pick the mix they prefer. In the UK, our electricity market reforms will rely on the market and competition to determine the low-carbon electricity mix. So we are legislating to set a technology-neutral decarbonisation target for our power sector. We will therefore oppose a renewable energy target at an EU level as inflexible and unnecessary.

Above all, we must keep our eyes on the prize: a binding global deal to reduce carbon emissions and limit climate change to manageable levels. That is why an ambitious emissions target for the EU is so important. Be in no doubt, without the EU adopting an ambitious approach, a global deal will be virtually impossible. So the UK must now lead in Europe on ambitious climate change targets and championing green growth at the same time. Then we will be meeting our responsibilities to pass on to our children an economy that is prosperous and a planet that can sustain them.

* Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston and Surbiton and Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesperson.

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9 Comments

  • Climate change will not be effected by anything we do its NOT Man Made lol earth and sun go through cycles lol look at history and what will happen is UK cut rest world increase Co2 and we as citizens pay through our teeth for this Folly GET REAL POLITCAL LEADERS CLIMATE CHANGE WILL NOT BE EFFECTED BY ANYTHING WE DO AS REST WORLD WONT FOLLOW SO WHY PUNNISH YOUR OWN WAKE UP

  • Did Bush issue CO2 death threats to billions of helpless children in an exaggerated climate crisis? Even Bush is shocked at how we have become the new neocon like fear mongers.

  • jenny barnes 27th May '13 - 3:52pm

    think “powered by pixie dust” is nearer to industrial scale production than CCS. Apart from anything else, once you’ve spent 1/3 of your energy production cooling and compressing the CO2, it has to be stored for over 1000 years to make a difference. Well containment failures are typically much shorter than that. If you think CCS is a good idea, I have this bridge at a bargain price.

    What happened to the European carbon price? Exxon is forecasting a CO2 price of around 80 USD/tonne, while the EU price is under 3 Euro/tonne. I’m not convinced this indicates a committed approach to CO2 reduction, when the biggest climate change sceptic and fossil fuel merchant on the planet thinks a CO2 price 25 times bigger than the EU one makes sense.

  • Stephen Hesketh 27th May '13 - 8:59pm

    @Terry – your post is itself a frightening source of hot air. In one breath you are stating that global warming is not man made and in the next that climate change won’t be effected because the rest of the world won’t follow us. Please make up your mind!

    Over geological time the earth’s climate has indeed fluctuated – what is clear is that the changes we are seeing at present are 1) more rapid than what has occurred in the past and 2) that it is associated with increases in CO2 levels that have occurred since the industrial revolution.

  • Alex Meredith 28th May '13 - 11:17am

    This is a big, bold and somewhat surprising move in support of the EU ETS. A strong carbon price should drive investment into renewables making a target unnecessary. The trouble is that the carbon market is currently too uncertain to use as a base for investment decisions, long term or otherwise. A move to 40 or 50% will help, but only if the EU ETS is fundamentally reformed to give it a long term future, as free as possible from political interference. Whether that is achievable remains to be seen.

  • Stephen Hesketh 28th May '13 - 8:00pm

    Ed, almost a year ago we installed solar PV panels on the roof of our home. We chose a very professional ethical local supplier. Despite the less than great UK weather, the panels have generated more electricity than we have consumed. A good news story of government support for renewables, SMEs, local jobs and people taking some responsibility for the energy they consume and the impact on future generations. In the same year however my professional, ethical, local supplier has ceased trading.

    I believe your department has cut incentives for renewables far too quickly while in almost every post pushing the benefits of capital intensive, centralised nuclear generation.

    I might reluctantly accept that new nuclear generation may be required in order to meet the agreed carbon targets but from almost everything I see we have lost our way in this key Lib Dem policy area.

    If I am completely wrong in my perception of an area of long standing personal interest, we need to be putting much more effort into publicising what we are doing right now in the areas of energy efficiency, micro and local generation, green growth etc. Nuclear power may be low carbon but, in addition to its own very real set of issues, it doesn’t answer any of the other questions facing us.

  • The Government needs to answer whether they consider a rise in global temperature of 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1880 to be significant and if so, what models were used to calculate significance .

  • From 1695 to 1935 warming was at 3.9C /century- over twice the rate of 1976-1998

    1860-1880 ,1910-1940, and 1976-1998 warmed at 1.6c/century

    There has been no statistically significant warming since Feb’ 1996- a period of 17 years.

  • Stephen Hesketh 29th May '13 - 5:33pm

    @Charlie … and the source of these ‘facts’ that appear to escaped the professional climate scientists – not to mention those non-readers of the trendy liberal press such as northerly spreading tree diseases, migrating insects, fish, birds and mammals, not to mention shrinking polar ice caps and glaciers?

    However, even if global warming ceased or even reversed, the arguments against wasting energy and effectively stealing scarce resources from the worlds poor and from future generations are surely undeniable. This is where Ed’s continuing analysis is excellent. My key difference with him is over the democratisation and decentralisation of energy production and green job creation by an over reliance on the nuclear option.

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