Why do we need a European Climate Law?
The atmosphere is warming, with serious consequences already now for our environment and societies. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that to keep global temperature rise to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial times and limit the negative impacts of climate change, the world needs to rapidly cut its emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases (GHG) to achieve net-zero emissions of CO2 by 2050 and all other greenhouse gases somewhat later in the century.
The EU has already put in place some of the toughest and most ambitious climate legislation in the world and started to modernise and transform its economy in line with its climate goals. Between 1990 and 2018, it reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23%, while the economy grew by 61%. The EU’s comprehensive climate and energy framework for 2030 will bring about further emission reductions across the economy.
However, current policies are expected to only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels, meaning that much more remains to be done. In light of the scientific evidence, the increasingly obvious and severe negative effects of climate change, and citizens’ demands for more action, additional measures needs to be taken urgently. Against this background, the European Climate Law sets the ambitious target to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by 2050 and a framework for achieving this climate-neutrality objective.
What are the key elements of the Commission’s proposal?
The European Climate Law aims to complement the existing EU policy framework by setting the long-term direction of travel for EU climate policies, providing predictability for investors and businesses on the EU’s commitment, and ensuring transparency and accountability.
The Law sets in legislation the EU’s objective to become climate-neutral by 2050, by cutting emissions and increasing the removals of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to reach net-zero emissions.
The Law also aims to enhance efforts on adaptation to climate change. In spite of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Europe will continue to face the negative effects of climate change. The upcoming EU Adaptation Strategy and Member States’ adaptation strategies and plans will be essential to address these challenges.
What does the Climate Law mean for existing policies and the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reduction target for 2030?
The proposal tasks the Commission to review existing policies and legislation in view of their consistency with the climate-neutrality objective and the trajectory identified.
As part of a two-step approach, the Commission will first assess and make proposals for increasing the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reduction target for 2030 to ensure its consistency with the 2050 objective. By September 2020, the Commission will present an impact assessed plan to increase the 2030 target to at least 50% and towards 55% compared to 1990 levels in a responsible way, and will propose to amend the climate law accordingly.
To achieve the revised, more ambitious 2030 target, by June 2021 the Commission will then propose reviews of the:
- European Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) Directive;
- Effort Sharing Regulation;
- Land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) Regulation;
- Energy Efficiency Directive;
- Renewable Energy Directive;
- CO2 emissions performance standards for cars and vans;
Several other initiatives in preparation under the European Green Deal will also help achieve the objectives of the Climate Law, including making a proposal for a “carbon border adjustment mechanism” for selected sectors, launching a new EU Adaptation Strategy and the European Climate Pact.
The Commission will support these policy goals with appropriate funding and financing tools:
The European Green Deal Investment Plan, proposed at the start of 2020 will unlock at least €1 trillion of sustainable investments over the next decade to help finance the climate transition. The InvestEU guarantee will support this by de-risking private funds,
a Renewed Sustainable Finance Strategy will aim at redirecting private capital flows to green investments, ensuring that sustainable investments are mainstreamed across our financial system,
The Just Transition Mechanism, and its accompanying Just Transition Fund, proposed in early 2020 will support the most affected regions and sectors ensuring the transition is fair and leaves no one behind. It will help them to modernise and diversify their economies and alleviate the social and economic costs of the transition.
How will the greenhouse gas emission reduction trajectory from 2030 to 2050 be set?
The Commission’s proposal outlines a process for setting out a trajectory from 2030 for net greenhouse gas emissions and removals at EU level to achieve over time the 2050 climate-neutrality objective. The trajectory will inter alia be based on latest scientific evidence and best available technologies. It will take into account cost-effectiveness and economic efficiency, fairness and solidarity across and within Member States and the necessity to ensure that the transition is just and socially fair.
Every five years, the Commission will consider the latest international and scientific developments as well as existing EU policies, legislation and progress made towards the 2050 objectives, to assess whether the trajectory is still adequate or needs to be updated. This process is aligned with the timelines of the ‘global stocktake’ under the Paris Agreement, under which Parties periodically take stock of the implementation of the agreement and collective progress towards its goals.
How can the EU achieve the objective of climate-neutrality by 2050?
The European Commission set out its vision for a climate-neutral EU by 2050 in its communication ‘A Clean Planet for all‘ in November 2018. The in-depth analysis underlying the vision looked at all the key sectors and explored several pathways for the transition. It showed that it is possible for the EU to move to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, using existing and emerging technological solutions, empowering citizens and aligning action in key areas such as industrial policy, finance or research, while ensuring social fairness for a just transition.
The transition to climate-neutrality will require action in all sectors, from changing how we generate energy and produce food to how we consume goods and services, to the jobs we hold and the way we travel. Ambitious action will help both protect our planet and improve our quality of life, through benefits such as cleaner air, water and soil; healthier food; more energy-efficient housing; better transport alternatives; and new opportunities for European businesses to take the lead in developing clean products and technologies.
This transition will require significant investments. To this end, the Commission put forward in January 2020 a European Green Deal Investment Plan to mobilise at least €1 trillion of sustainable investments over the next decade, as well as a Just Transition Mechanism to ensure that the transition towards a climate-neutral economy happens in a fair way, with targeted support for the most affected regions.
Modernising and decarbonising the EU’s economy will stimulate significant additional investment. Today around 2% of GDP is invested in our energy system and related infrastructure. This would have to increase to 2.8% in order to achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas economy. This means considerable additional investments compared to the baseline, in the range of €175-290 billion a year.
This may seem substantial but it is achievable and much better value to society than the cost of inaction which will see climate related damage and health effects take a huge cost on our society. Moreover, inaction leaves us at a competitive disadvantage as neighbouring countries innovate and develop the sustainable technologies of the future.
How are citizens and stakeholders involved?
EU citizens are concerned about climate change and support national and EU action. In the latest Special Eurobarometer on climate change (September 2019), 93% of EU citizens considered climate change a serious problem and 92% agreed that we must make our economy climate-neutral by 2050.
As all parts of society have a part to play in the transition to climate-neutrality, an inclusive and accessible process to exchange best practice and identify actions that contribute to the 2050 objective is an important element of the Climate Law. We all have a duty to act and Europeans have shown their strong will to be part of the change. The European Climate Pact will bring together all of these efforts, involving regions, local communities, civil society, schools, industry and individuals. Today, the Commission has also launched a public consultation on this European Climate Pact, again giving citizens the opportunity to participate in shaping how the Pact will work in practice.
How will the Climate Pact be developed?
The involvement and commitment of stakeholders and the public at large will be crucial for the success of the European Green Deal. The Climate Pact intends to harness exemplary action on the ground and encourage change in the areas where it is so crucial, such as mobility, buildings’ renovation, energy production and consumption, greening of public and private spaces, as well as in our individual and collective choices and behaviour. It aims at offering both the opportunities and the platforms for valuable initiatives to develop and thrive and will be a key part of the just transition for all. This is an unprecedented exercise and we will need everybody to rally behind and bring ideas to the Pact.
The Pact does not start from scratch. There are many existing examples of efforts from civil society to tackle climate change. The Climate Pact will build on this, and encourage an integrated, structured and more proactive approach to awareness raising and stakeholder action at the European level.
Alongside government policies and regulation, there is a role to play for citizens, communities and organisations in all sectors of our society and economy. The Commission has launched an open public consultation on the Pact to give citizens and stakeholders a role in designing new climate actions, sharing information, launching grassroots activities and showcasing solutions that others can follow. The inputs from this public consultation will be instrumental to shape the Climate Pact before its launch later in 2020.
The Caribbean is ‘ground zero’ for the global climate emergency
The UN Secretary-General’s final day in Suriname began on a small plane and ended at a podium. A 90-minute flyover from Paramaribo into the Central Suriname Nature Reserve revealed to António Guterres the astounding beauty of the Amazon but also spotlighted the threats the rainforest is facing from mining and logging activities, and climate change.
The Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an immense protected area covering around 11 percent of the national territory, is recognized for its tabletop mountains and endless biodiversity – some believed to be undiscovered – and remains for the most part inaccessible and unaffected by human activity.
From above, the rainforest canopy was painted with countless shades of green, with some treetops covered in waves of orange or even purple flowers. Along the way, the mighty Coppename River, as well as the upstream parts of the Lucie, Saramacca, and Suriname Rivers flowed by the trees in what looked like a landscape painting.
However, before reaching the protected area, the UN chief could see that Suriname’s forests are seriously threatened by the activities of the mining sector and timber production, both fuelled by incentives to boost economic activities. Strikingly visible above the deep green canopy, the brownish patches of deforestation, evidence of destructive gold mining and flooding were difficult to miss.
A moment of ‘maximum peril’
Although Suriname is part of the South American continent, it is considered a Caribbean nation due to its history, culture, and the similar challenges it faces with the small island nations.
Later on Sunday, the UN chief arrived at the Assuria Event Centre in Paramaribo, to attend the opening of the 43rd Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) Conference.
Mr. Guterres’s arrival was met with four distinct music and cultural performances. The short walk showcased Suriname’s unique ethnic diversity, a product of its long history and Dutch colonization. Afro-Surinamese, East Indian, Indigenous natives, Chinese and Javanese descendants presented their traditional dances and folkloric sounds
At the podium, the Secretary-General highlighted the region’s diversity and climate action leadership, while outlining a series of actions to be taken in the face of the planetary crisis, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and global financial challenges.
“Rich in diversity, uniting land and sea, and protecting fragile coastal ecosystems, mangroves are a fitting symbol of Caribbean nations – facing challenges, seizing opportunities, preserving natural gifts,” the UN chief told the region’s Heads of State and Government on Sunday, inspired by his isit to these coastal carbon-sink wonders in Paramaribo a day before.
Mr. Guterres recognized that the small island low-lying coastal states of the Caribbean are especially vulnerable to what he called “the biggest challenge facing our world today” — the climate crisis.
“The Caribbean is ground zero for the global climate emergency,” he said, underlining that unfortunately, it is not the only challenge that the region is facing.
“This year’s CARICOM summit comes at a moment of maximum peril – for people and planet alike,” he added, referring to the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on health systems and tourism, as well as on economic growth and foreign investment, now exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.
The Secretary-General told the CARICOM leaders that bold solutions were necessary to tackle these issues, highlighting three.
1. Match climate action to the scale and urgency of the crisis
Mr. Guterres called for urgent and transformative emissions reduction to halt global warming at a 1.5C, support for adaptation from climate impacts, and financial assistance to secure resilience.
“I thank Caribbean leaders for helping to show the way. I am inspired by your many efforts to safeguard your incredible biodiversity and natural gifts, including by the efforts of the indigenous communities,” he said.
He added that more ambition and climate action are needed by all, but specially the G20 who account for 80 per cent of global emissions.
“The war in Ukraine cannot lead to short-sighted decisions that shut the door on 1.5C. With the commitments presently registered, emissions are still predicted to grow by 14 per cent through 2030. This is simply suicide – and it must be reversed.”
The UN chief stressed that wealthier countries need to lead the way in a just and equitable “ renewables revolution ”, and they need to fulfil their promise to deliver $100 billion in climate finance for adaptation starting this year.
“And it is time for a frank discussion and space for decision-making regarding the loss and damage that your countries are already experiencing,” he emphasised.
2. Reform ‘morally bankrupt’ global financial system and spur sustainable recovery
The Secretary General underlined that developing economies need access to financing at no or low costs, as well as debt relief and restructuring.
“On the debt side, we need immediate relief for developing countries whose debt is about to become due,” he said.
The UN chief added that he fully supports the creation of a Caribbean Resilience Fund and the reform of the international financial system to help the region better respond and prevent massive vulnerability to external shocks.
“Clearly, our old metrics have failed us. It’s time to change them,” Mr. Guterres said, proposing to move beyond the financial system’s preoccupation with per capita income, and establishing a ‘multidimensional vulnerability index’ to determine access to financial support.
“For your countries, this would mean ensuring that the complex and interdependent factors of debt and climate change impact are captured in any eligibility analysis for debt relief and financing,” he told the Caribbean Heads of State and Government.
3. Keep up the combat against the COVID-19 pandemic
The Secretary-General made a push for governments, organizations and pharmaceutical companies to work better together to locally produce tests, vaccines and treatments.
“We’re not out of the woods yet… And we need to continue working closely together to stop the spread of the virus across the Caribbean through proven public health measures and prepare for future pandemics through bold investments in preparedness and training,” he stated, and stressed that countries must never again be so unprepared.
Finally, Mr. Guterres reaffirmed the support of the United Nations to the Caribbean to work towards these solutions.
New UN financing initiative goes live to power climate action
A new UN-led financing tool to strengthen weather and climate forecasting, improve life-saving early warning systems, safeguard jobs, and underpin climate adaptation for long-term resilience, officially opened for business on Thursday.
The Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) is a key building block for a new initiative spearheaded by UN Secretary-General General António Guterres to ensure that early warning services cover everyone on Earth, within the next five years.
SOFF seeks to address the long-standing problem of inadequate weather forecasting and climate services, especially in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
In support of the Paris Agreement on climate change, it will strengthen the international response to keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, “by filling the data gaps that limit our understanding of the climate”, according to a press release issued by the World Meteorological Organization, WMO.
These gaps affect national agencies’ ability to predict and adapt to extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and heatwaves, all of which are on the rise, in line with the warming climate.
Heads of the three founding agencies, WMO, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP), joined ministers from donor countries, LDC Group members, Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) representatives and development partners, at the first SOFF Steering Committee meeting in Helsinki on Thursday to get the facility up and running.
Boost ‘the power of prediction’
“As the climate crisis worsens, it is crucial that we boost the power of prediction for everyone so countries can reduce disaster risk”, said the UN chief.
“That is why we have launched an initiative to ensure that every person on Earth is protected by early warning systems within the next five years. SOFF is an essential tool to achieve this. I thank all the countries that are providing initial funding to the SOFF UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund and urge others to do the same”.
“Early warning systems are built on the foundation of weather observation data, but this foundation is patchy to non-existent in many in LDCs and African countries,” stated Selwin Hart, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Action and Just Transition.
Join the club
“I want to congratulate all the countries that have come forward and announce or soon will announce their financial contributions to the SOFF UN Multi Partner Trust Fund. I urge others to follow suit and help create a strong global data foundation upon which timely, accurate, people centered early warning systems can be built for everyone. Our collective efforts are needed more than ever.”
WMO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas, pointed out that today, less than 10 per cent of required basic weather and climate forecasting systems are available from SIDS and LDCs.
“The world urgently needs this data and this is why SOFF will be a partnership of equals where everyone has a role and responsibilities.”
SOFF provides benefits not only to the most vulnerable countries, but to all countries across the globe, said WMO. The improved availability of weather and climate observations enabled by the SOFF are essential if the world community is to realize the 162 billion US dollars annually in socio-economic benefits of weather and climate prediction.
Best science, best data
Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director, emphasized that “now is the time to begin business by providing financial resources and technical capacity, by ensuring that from local to the global, all our actions can be informed by the best science and the best data. My deep thanks to the generous funders who will announce their firm pledges today. I encourage all to follow suit because now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get to work for people and for planet.”
UN Under-Secretary General and UNDP Associate Administrator Usha Rao-Monari followed, adding that “The United Nations Development Program is a proud co-founder of the SOFF UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund. Together with WMO and UNEP we are building upon the momentum generated over the past two years and I want to sincerely thank all stakeholders that contributed to the development of the SOFF. The specialized support provided by SOF is needed more than ever.”
Making carbon dioxide into protein for innovative animal feed
by Tom Cassauwers
Having a big idea may not be enough to change the world – innovation is a commercial process as well as scientific inspiration. Turning research into marketable products is partly a business challenge.
It’s common knowledge that proteins, a key component of human nutrition, are also essential for making animal feeds. Less well known is the uncomfortable fact that much of the protein we feed animals in Europe leads to deforestation and overfishing worldwide.
Biotechnology start-up Deep Branch have designed a biochemical transformation process that turns carbon dioxide (CO2) into a protein-rich powder for animals to eat.
The Deep Branch process converts carbon dioxide into a powder, called Proton, which has around 70% protein content. This is much higher than natural soy, which has around 40%.
British-Dutch company Deep Branch is the brainchild of Peter Rowe, a PhD graduate in molecular biology of Nottingham University in the UK. For him, the idea to convert CO2 into protein just kept popping up. ‘We looked at the field and wondered “Why the hell isn’t anyone doing this?”’ said Rowe.
Raising livestock and fish farming requires foods with high protein densities. Around 80% of the world’s soy crop is used to raise beef and dairy, with demand for these products increasing with the growing population.
Aquaculture depends on fishmeal production, which is partly reliant on harvesting fish from the wild.
Soy agriculture drives deforestation, global warming and habitat loss while overfishing endangers ecosystems and affects the balance of life in the oceans. Overall, food production has a huge role to play in the climate and biodiversity crises.
There’s also the issue of food security. ‘Europe is almost completely reliant on South America for the protein we use to feed our animals,’ said Rowe. ‘There’s a high risk of extreme events, geopolitics or even weather, disrupting that.’
The carbon dioxide can come from many sources. In the pilot, Deep Branch used gas coming from a bioenergy plant that burns waste wood. ‘We culture these microbes in a bioreactor,’ said Rowe. ‘This is the same technology used to make enzymes in biotechnology, or even brew beer.’
The carbon dioxide is put into a fermentation tank as a gas, with hydrogen added to serve as an energy source. After the cellular process is complete, the protein is then dried into a powder to be used as an ingredient in a sustainable animal feed.
It’s the type of idea that could make a circular, sustainable economy grow. Deep Branch emerged with Rowe’s biotech qualification. However, he wasn’t necessarily interested in a career in academics.
‘I never saw myself as a career academic, but a PhD is a good choice for a career in biotechnology,’ he said. On the other hand, ‘I like the idea that my research has real, short-term impacts in the world,’ he said.
According to Rowe, speculative research is always necessary, and universities are ideal places to pursue that. But bridging the gap from academia to the private sector presents its own challenges.
‘Some technologies would never have been invented in the private sector,’ said Rowe. ‘Sometimes you need fundamental scientific breakthroughs. But afterwards there needs to be a transition to the market.’
Universities will need to improve their policies around spin-off businesses for this process to work better, argues Rowe. As it stands, when technology is developed at an institution, universities and even individual academics take a share of the value in a spin-off company.
The problem is, sometimes this share becomes too high. When this happens it potentially impacts the further growth of the company by disincentivising private investment.
‘The university or academic who gets the equity doesn’t get any risk,’ said Rowe. ‘The PhD-students or postdocs who founded the company take all the risk.’
By taking an equity stake that is too large, institutions could potentially affect the development of the business. ‘We need to ensure that young researchers can go out and take risks,’ said Rowe.
In the meantime, Deep Branch seems to be a good example of how the transition from academia to private industry can work well. With a growing team, the business is seeking further investment to develop their next facility.
‘We’re keeping busy’, said Rowe, smiling.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
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