France Might Have An Idea To Break European Gridlock On New Climate Change Targets

Jun 30, 2014 by


The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The European Union has been gridlocked over new targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But on Friday, Reuters got a look at a new position paper from the French government that could provide a way out.

At issue is a recently proposed EU deal to cut the greenhouse gas emissions from that group of countries 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The target was put forward by the European Commission — the EU’s executive body — as the offer the EU nations should bring to a new international summit on climate change in Paris next year. But the deal must still be ratified by the EU’s member nations. Poland, which gets over 90 percent of its energy from coal, has been the primary holdout, vetoing similar targets twice in the last three years — though diplomats told Reuters other member states besides Poland have raised issues.

The fear is that less wealthy and more carbon-intensive countries like Poland will suffer a disproportionate economic burden under the new targets — a concern that in many ways mimics objections to emission cuts from critics and coal-heavy states here in America.

According to Reuters, the new French position paper suggests sharing the revenues brought in by the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) with member states like Poland that have lower economic production per person. The ETS is a cap-and-trade system amongst the member states, and it’s the EU’s biggest tool for meeting the proposed 40 percent reduction: greenhouse gas emissions are capped, then the total allowed amount is divvied up into tradable permits for one metric ton of emissions each, that emitters under the system can then buy and sell among themselves. The revenues come from the initial auctions of the permits.

Some EU member states had hoped an EU summit this past Friday could deliver progress on the 2030 greenhouse gas targets. But between the holdouts, the crisis in Ukraine, and the nomination of a new president for the European Commission, a decision on the targets was pushed back to a scheduled summit talk in October.

Given that the 2015 international climate talks will be in its own capital, France has a particular incentive to try to smooth out the road to a comprehensive EU deal. Back in December, the French Parliament also passed its own carbon tax which went into effect in May. It’s part of an overall package aimed at cutting France’s fossil fuel use by 30 percent by 2030, and raising renewables to 23 percent of its overall energy mix by 2020.

Finland recently passed legislation to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 — based on a similar package that passed in Britain back in 2008 — and in February, Denmark announced its own version cutting emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

All of which suggests a building political momentum within the member states for a final EU-wide deal to cut emissions, and then on to a broader international deal in 2015.

Over here in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency recently unveiled rules to cut the carbon emissions from the nation’s new and already-existing power plants. They’re part of President Obama’s climate action plan, aimed at meeting the U.S. government’s international pledge to cut nation-wide carbon emissions 17 percent below their 2005 levels by 2020.

As Obama has laid out, those new regulations are America’s contribution to the international momentum for climate action. The cooperative challenge of climate change is that, while everyone benefits from emissions reductions, not everyone benefits the same. Nor has every country emitted the same amount in the past, or emit the same now. So some countries like the United States have benefited economically far more from their contributions to the problem of global warming than have others. This makes the establishment of trust and goodwill essential to nailing down a cooperative international effort to cut global greenhouse gas emissions.

“American influence is always stronger when we lead by example,” Obama said recently at West Point. “We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”

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