Following the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on 4th
November, the 22nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change commenced in
Marrakech. As if to illustrate poignantly the challenge to be met
if the paper commitments are to actually prevent dangerous
anthropogenic climate change, two articles were published last week
which reflect the extent to which the continued reality on the
ground stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric and pledges at
international climate change events.
The first article in The Guardian reports that Greece
is on course to receive 1.75 billion euros in free carbon
allowances from the EU carbon-trading scheme in order to support
the construction and operation of two huge coal-fired power
stations. The allowances would be provided under derogation
'10C' of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) which was
designed to help poorer countries move towards a sustainable energy
future. Frequently, however, it ends up being used as a tool to
garner the support of heavily coal-dependent east European EU
member states for the EU's energy and climate change policies
and commitments. Greece, wedded to producing energy through a
substance called 'lignite', seems unable to embrace a clean
energy future in practice, setting itself at odds both with its
climate change pledges at international level, and with those of
the EU as a whole. Should the free carbon allowances be approved by
the European Parliament, wheels will be set in motion which
inevitably will undermine the attainment of a reduction in carbon
emissions of "at least 40%" relative to 1990 levels by
2030 that the EU has committed itself to as part of the Paris
The second article, also in The Guardian, exposes plans
for renewable energy to lose priority access to the European energy
grid as part of changes to "make Europe's energy
generators more flexible and cost-competitive", a move which
will inevitably reduce further investment in renewables in Europe
which have already been hit by a reduction in subsidies and
financial support in many states.
Lest we think this trend is a classic example of what is wrong
with the EU, in truth, there is barely a party to the UNFCCC that
isn't undermining its legal climate change commitments with its
policies and action on the ground. The UK has done a brilliant job
of this through the reductions in feed-in tariffs, and most
recently, with the Government's enthusiastic pursuit of
fracking as the answer to the country's energy future in spite
of its high carbon footprint. China and India talk the talk, but
walk in the opposite direction by continuing to construct fossil
fuel power stations which tie them into a high-carbon future for
several decades. Others continue large-scale deforestation in spite
of the vital role of forests as carbon sinks.
The dramatic gulf between words and actions is the result of two
things: firstly, an unabated tendency to put "economics"
and "financial prosperity" at the top of the action
agenda; secondly, a continuing disconnect between policy spheres, a
tendency to treat climate change as primarily an
"environmental" policy dealt with by one branch of
government, while much that relates to climate change is dealt with
by a very different set of officials in departments devoted to
economics, business, energy and industrial policy. The need to
"mainstream" climate change across government is not new;
many governments talk of doing just that but are comprehensively
failing to operate in this way. In a world in which industrial and
economic policy- and decision-makers are not thinking about and
integrating climate change commitments into all of their work, we
simply are doomed to generate a level of global warming far above
the "well below 2 degrees" target, regardless of what
happens at COP22. So far, this "commitment –
action" gulf is receiving all-too-little attention.
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