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International Climate Policy and the EU

Jos Delbeke
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Let’s go into the international climate policy and the EU. In fact, climate change is based on science. Perhaps there is no environmental problem that has been so widely and deeply analysed such as climate change and all researchers in the world come together in the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and they played a crucial role in indicating what is happening in the globe. They said that the climate change we are observing is unprecedented for years, decades, centuries, millennia, and it is the human influence that is very clear and the manifestation of climate change is in all regions of the world.
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Now, the scientists also said that we must limit climate change to maximum 2C compared to the pre-industrial level so as to avoid the dangerous effects of climate change. Now, let’s have a look at some graphs that are very telling. The first graph is the global temperature since the last Ice Age and the graph is spanning a period of 22,000 years so the point 0 is the Roman time and the red line at the end is the temperature increase over the last 100 years.
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And, as you can see, we are coming at the end of the Holocene and leaving the zone where the Holocene would have showed a little cooling off of the planet, we jump up to another range and some are saying we are entering into another Ice Age called the Anthropocene. But without much further dwelling into that, let’s have a look at where the emissions of greenhouse gases come from.
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And in fact you see that on the second part of the slide where we have a very devastating result and that is that we have not yet reached the peak globally in the emissions of greenhouse gases and when we would have expected in the 1960s, 70s, a levelling off of the emissions, then a new wave, a new increase started and you see that with the industrialization of Asia, and in particular one big country in Asia, China, makes a big difference. So, what are the greenhouse gases we are experiencing? From which energy carriers are they coming from?
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It’s coal, it’s oil, it’s gas and, in particular, we have to move out of coal, that is what the scientists are telling us, and coal is today still being used in major parts of the world. That’s why a lot of international discussions are on how to phase out as fast as possible the use of coal and then how to move out of oil and gas.
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This graph is indicating how much the different parts of the world are covering their emissions and you can see that as of the more or less the years 2000 you see the yellow line jumping up, which is China, the emissions from China and China standing for the group of newly emerging economies going through a rapid phase of industrialization. Now, we really face a global problem and we need a global policy reaction and that is why the scientists in the IPCC were pushing the world and the United Nations to come together and to address the problem.
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So, they did that in 1992 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro and they agreed on a Framework Convention on Climate Change. In fact, it is the first international climate agreement and it is really a framework spelling out the principles and the objectives that need to be reached.
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So, the principles is to be based on science, fairness is a very important element, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities is a core principle of the Climate Convention, and the goal is to prevent the dangerous effects of climate change and to have a stabilisation of CO2 concentration by the end of the 20th century, something that has not yet been reached and is still on the table and is being filled out as we speak and we are going to dwell on that later on in the course. But important is that the Framework Convention on Climate Change is supported by all countries in the world, it has universal support.
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Operationalising the principles is being done in Protocols and the first Protocol is the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 where quantitative emissions reductions were agreed for the developed countries. And the developed countries had a somewhat differentiated approach that is that the EU would reduce its emissions with 8%, the US with 7% and Japan with 6% in the commitment period that was defined, a period 2008-2012 where those emissions reductions would be realised based on the year 1990. And later on a second commitment period was agreed as well.
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Very important in this for the EU that it was a “bubble” arrangement and the “bubble” arrangement is that the EU as a continent could jointly fulfil its obligations and the “jointly” means that the obligations of every single Member State could be jointly performed by the EU together. And this allowed a more pronounced differentiation of the effort between the Member States in the EU because some were recent members of the EU and rapidly developing economically, while others were well-established industrialized countries, say Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, etcetera and so there was a distribution effort internally within the EU “bubble”, the joint fulfilment of the obligations.
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Now, when we look back at the Kyoto Protocol, the disadvantage was that it was only covering the emissions of the developed countries and if we look at today that would represent not more than 12% of the global emissions. So, the Kyoto Protocol, you know, lost out a little bit in its relevance of having a global effort to address a global problem. And, apart from that, you know, there were also other things that we learned that is that it is politically very sensitive and the US in the end did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol and Australia and Canada walked away from the Kyoto Protocol because they wanted to avoid the sanctions that were foreseen there.
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So, the Kyoto Protocol is somewhat of a mixed bag given the realities we are in today, but it still produced important elements. And important elements such as solid rules of emissions accounting stand up. Also, the use of market-based instruments such as emissions trading and offset projects, called CDM and JI, are very important achievements of the Kyoto Protocol. So, while there were major weaknesses in the Kyoto Protocol, the architecture that was build up is an architecture we are still building further on.
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And so we agreed on a new agreement, the Paris Agreement in 2015, that is subject to universal participation and that means that all countries in the world are committed to do their bit to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. Now, that universal participation is being achieved but it is a less strict regime compared to the Kyoto Protocol and while there are ambitious overall goals, the overall goal being well below 2C and pursuing 1.5C compared to pre-industrial times, there is a looser arrangement in terms of the individual targets and ambition levels that need to be reached.
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There is a pledging process where countries would make their commitments themselves and deliver on the table what they can and are able to deliver and this “pledge & review” process, because every five years we would review the efforts that are being done, is a process that is not leading us to the goals that the scientists have been telling us that we should reach an overall ambition of well below 2C. So, the “pledge & review” process needs to be tightened up and that is what we hope to do in the successive Conferences of the Parties, of which COP26 was the latest one that is going into this exercise.
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So, we have a strong commitment under the the Paris Agreement to help one another, not only to have stronger cooperation and financial support, but also to be more transparent about the efforts that are being undertaken. The Paris Agreement is for that reason, and as it has universal support, the pillar, the new pillar of all action to be undertaken on climate change globally for the future. We are not yet getting there and that is what this graph is showing.
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The warming projections that were delivered in the “pledge & review” process bring us rather around 3C, while the scientists have been insisting that, and that you see on the green line and the yellow lines, we should go well below the blue zone that is the zone where we have today the pledges that are on the table.
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So, the current policies, the blue zone area, that is quite wide because there are quite a number of uncertainties, needs to be improved and that is what all the time is being discussed amongst the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol is how to strengthen and to make more ambitious the policies that reduce greenhouse gases in all countries of the world, not just in the developed countries. And so today at COP26 there is quite an intensive debate about the future commitments and a lot of countries have said that they would turn into climate neutrality by the middle of the century and more than half of the emissions that are globally happening on greenhouse gases have been covered today by net-zero targets.
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Of course, targets need to be delivered and policies have to be implemented, so there is a long way still to go, but the net-zero targets by 2050/2060, by the middle of the century I think are very important and important countries, such as, or blocks of countries such as the EU, the United States or China have been making strong commitments on that. So, what are then the interactions that are there between the international level and the EU level? One of the elements that are key is that the National Communications and the MRV, the monitoring, reporting and verification provisions of the United Nations, have been implemented by the EU in a very ambitious and strict manner.
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The first law ever adopted in the EU on climate change is the EU Monitoring Mechanism and it deals with tracking of emissions not only from all Member States but also from all sectors of economic activity, and it produces every year a report, an annual report that is just telling the way the things are going in terms of reducing emissions. So, there is always a mixed bag of good news and bad news, but that is what guides the policy and that is what other Parties in the world also should gradually move towards and that is a commitment that is present in the Paris Agreement.
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So, the good monitoring, the robust accounting between Parties is a very important element and the EU went even a step further ahead, namely that the EU developed an Emissions Trading System. And that Emissions Trading System is allowing Parties to that system to exchange emissions against payment, so we need a good tracking of who is doing what in terms of emissions reductions and so the EU has through that ETS system a very performant list of activities of who is emitting what in each year and it is for that reason taking a much important step further compared to what the international obligations are. So, what is in this entire story Europe’s climate vision? Well, today’s climate change is caused by Western industrialization.
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So, the climate change we are experiencing today is caused by the West but the climate change that we are going to see the future, the climate change of our children and grandchildren is going to be predominantly caused by the emerging economies. And so it is of crucial importance that we all in the United Nations united in the Paris Agreement, we all develop the policies that are most adapted to the different realities of the different countries. So, everybody needs to be on board and that is what the Paris Agreement is delivering and that is where we have to work on further on with multilateral as well as bilateral action.
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Europe has defined its mission as a “first mover” because Europe has a particular climate responsibility. It is the place where the Industrial Revolution started, where coal was digged out of the underground in massive amounts. So, we have a climate responsibility but we translate and add to that an economic opportunity because we have to develop new technologies, new ways of consuming energy and producing energy, for example, and so avoiding the use of fossil fuels. And so Europe as a “first mover” is in fact turning itself into a laboratory for low-carbon technologies and for low-carbon policies and that’s what we’re going to spell out during the course.

In this video, Jos Delbeke explains the crucial role of the scientific data in the understanding of the climate change. Additionally, he explains the origins and the development of the international climate governance under the UNFCCC framework. He also explains how international climate agreements have triggered climate policy action in the EU and he explains what the EU Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) provisions are, among others.

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