Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

By Lies Craeynest, Oxfam’s EU climate change expert

Tomorrow, the European Commission will announce its most important stance on climate change in years. After weeks of deliberation, the EU’s executive arm will state its suggestions for both CO2 emission cuts and renewable energy targets. As many European governments, industry associations and civil society groups call for bolder action on climate change, the Commission seems intent on setting the EU’s emissions reduction target for 2030 at just 35-40 per cent.

The Commission is gambling away the goal which they, and other world leaders, agreed to in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change by limiting global warming to 2̊C. By setting a feeble target, they increase the probability that much of the world, particularly the poorest countries, as well as large expanses of Europe, will experience dangerous climate impacts which we simply cannot adapt to.

Freak weather events seen in the Philippines, the Sahel and even cold fronts similar to the one experienced in North America this year are becoming increasingly common. In Pakistan, the 2010 mega-flood destroyed over 570,000 hectares of cropland in Punjab and affected over 20 million people. 80 percent of food reserves were lost. The situation is set to get much worse as the climate warms. As temperatures in the world increase, average staple food prices could more than double by 2030, with up to half the increase due to climate change, causing global hunger and child malnutrition to rise by 20 per cent. With the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating that scientists are 95 per cent certain that humans are the ‘dominant cause’ for climate change, it is time to get serious about the issue.

Targets encourage action. In 2013, Europe reached its 20 per cent emissions reduction goal, seven years before the 2020 deadline. It is likely to reduce emissions by close to 30 per cent without much extra effort. By lowering their sights for 2030, the EU condemns Europe to a decade of non-action. Europeans will lose the job, health and economic benefits that a low carbon energy transition would bring. The Commission also sends a regressive sign to the rest of the world ahead of the UN climate summit organised by Ban Ki-Moon in September, and the UN Paris climate conference next year where world leaders need to agree a new global climate deal.

The fossil fuel industry has clearly been whispering in the ear of European leaders who are putting their interests above those of their people. Progressive business leaders, particularly those who are most exposed to climate risks such as the food and drink sector, should speak up.

It is not too late to change course. The EU should back ambitious 2030 targets including at least a 55 per cent reduction in emissions, a 45 per cent target for sustainable renewable energy, and a binding 40 per cent target for energy efficiency.

Europe needs clear leadership if it is to free itself from the multiple crises it faces now. President Barroso has a choice: provide a courageous vision in line with science that results in social and economic gains or place himself on the wrong side of history. With a legacy to be gained, let’s hope he goes for the former.

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