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Explainer: The European Climate Law and Climate Pact

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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.

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No More Business as Usual: Green Deal Needed in Europe’s Recovery

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Chief executive officers (CEOs) and senior representatives of around 30 European companies expressed today their support for the European Green Deal as a growth strategy for Europe with a joint statement. The COVID-19 recovery is the opportunity to reset Europe’s economy with a new growth model on the path to net-zero emissions, based on circularity, renewable energy and low-carbon industries.

The CEOs said they firmly believe the way out of the current crisis cannot be more of the same. They commit to reducing their carbon footprint and to embrace new production and work models to play their part in decarbonizing Europe’s economy and achieving climate-neutrality by 2050.

“The COVID-19 pandemic requires a massive and coordinated economic stimulus to both mitigate the economic repercussions of the pandemic and, above all, to accelerate the necessary transition to a low carbon economy. We have to take more and faster action with more emphasis on sustainability and circularity. The European Green Deal presents an opportunity to do just this. It requires a strong partnership between business, politics and society. Together we can make Europe the greenest, most innovative and inclusive region in the world, where the Green Deal should provide jobs and economic prosperity at the same time. The action plan announced today by the WEF CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal is an important step with concrete actions to support this agenda.” commented the CEO Action Group Co-Chairs, Axa’s CEO Thomas Buberl and Feike Sybesma, Royal DSM’s Honorary Chairman.

“The EU is putting in place the largest and greenest stimulus plan ever. It is the right time for businesses to show how they can effectively contribute to achieving the EU’s climate targets. As a next step, this group is working on lighthouse projects, which demonstrate how to step up action in areas such as sustainable transport and mobility, food and agriculture and renewable energy markets,” Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, added.

The EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in her State of the European Union speech today, is expected to reassert the Green Deal as a central element of Europe’s growth strategy and the region’s recovery efforts. Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President in charge of the European Green Deal, welcomed the CEO statement: “The Green Deal is a once-in-a-generation effort to transform our economy. It is crucial to have European businesses on board, as we’ll need every company to contribute to climate neutrality and help deliver on the Green Deal. I very much support the efforts of the CEO Action Group to implement the European climate agenda.”

CEOs and senior representatives supporting the statement are:

  • Michael Altendorf, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Adtelligence GmbH, Germany
  • Marco Alverà, Chief Executive Officer, Snam S.p.A., Italy
  • Claudia Azevedo, Chief Executive Officer, SONAE SGPS SA, Portugal
  • Kai Beckmann, Chief Executive Officer, Performance Materials, Member of the Executive Board, Merck, Germany
  • Dick Benschop, President and Chief Executive Officer, Royal Schiphol Group, Netherlands
  • Jesper Brodin, Chief Executive Officer, Ingka Group (IKEA), Netherlands
  • Thomas Buberl, Chief Executive Officer, AXA SA, France*
  • Levent Cakiroglu, Chief Executive Officer, Koç Holding AS, Turkey
  • Bertrand Camus, Chief Executive Officer, SUEZ, France
  • Liam Condon, President, Bayer Crop Science, Bayer AG, Germany
  • Claudio Descalzi, Chief Executive Officer, Eni SpA, Italy
  • Hanneke Faber, President, Foods and Refreshment Division, Unilever, Netherlands
  • Camilla Hagen Sørli, Member of the Board, Canica AS, Norway
  • André Hoffmann, Vice-Chairman, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, Switzerland
  • John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive Officer, Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited, United Kingdom
  • Svein Tore Holsether, President and Chief Executive Officer, Yara International ASA, Norway
  • Paul Hudson, Chief Executive Officer, Sanofi, France
  • Nuno Matos, Chief Executive Europe, HSBC Holdings Plc, United Kingdom
  • Gerald Podobnik, CFO Corporate Bank, Deutsche Bank AG, Germany
  • Jonas Prising, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ManpowerGroup, USA
  • Nicolas Namias, Chief Executive Officer, Natixis, France
  • Yves Robert-Charrue, Member of the Executive Board and Head of Switzerland, Europe, Middle East & Africa, Bank Julius Baer & Co. Ltd, Switzerland
  • Michael Schernthaner, Chief Executive Officer, Schur Flexibles Group, Austria
  • Veronica Scotti, Chairperson, Public Sector Solutions, Swiss Re Management Ltd, Switzerland
  • Marco Settembri, Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer, Europe, Middle East and North Africa, Nestlé, Switzerland
  • Feike Sybesma, Honorary Chairman, Royal DSM NV, Netherlands*
  • Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Electric, France
  • Loic Tassel, President, Europe, Procter & Gamble, Switzerland
  • Bernhardt von Spreckelsen, Fashion Photographer & Developing Hyper Luxury, Brand Owner, Bernhardt von Spreckelsen, United Kingdom

The CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal, launched in autumn 2019 in cooperation with the World Economic Forum and the European Commission, seeks to mobilize business to step up commitments towards achieving the Green Deal and the EU greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030 in order to drive a clean and inclusive economic recovery.

*Co-chairs of the CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal

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Indigenous People in World Affairs

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In late May, the world’s biggest iron ore miner Rio Tinto legally destroyed two historically significant sacred caves in a Western Australian state, against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners, which sat atop a high-grade ore body it planned to mine.

The destruction distressed the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP) and fuelled a wider public outcry that led to an inquiry into how the blast was legally sanctioned.

The destruction of the sites, which showed evidence of 46,000 years of continual habitation, occurred just as the Black Lives Matter protests trained a global spotlight on racial injustice.

The inquiry is looking at how a culturally significant site came to be destroyed, the processes that failed to protect it, the impacts on traditional owners, and the legislative changes required to prevent such incidents from recurring.

Rio is conducting its own independent board review into the incident, due to be completed in October, and has pledged to make the findings public.

Aboriginal cultural heritage is a fundamental part of Aboriginal community life and cultural identity. It has global significance and forms an important component of the heritage of all Australians.

But the destruction of this culturally significant Aboriginal site is not an isolated incident. Rio Tinto was acting within the law.

In 2013, Rio Tinto was given ministerial consent to damage the Juukan Gorge caves. One year later, an archaeological dig unearthed incredible artefacts, such as a 4,000-year-old plait of human hair, and evidence that the site was much older than originally thought.

But state laws let Rio Tinto charge ahead nevertheless. This failure to put timely and adequate regulatory safeguards in place reveals a disregard and disrespect for sacred Aboriginal sites.

Another example is the world’s leading steel and mining company ArcelorMittal.

ArcelorMittal needs to move beyond good intentions on environmental and social improvements and turn words into deeds. Despite its rhetoric on social responsibility, the company continues to destroy the environment, risk people’s lives and displace local communities, according to a new report launched in 2019 by the Global Action on ArcelorMittal coalition to coincide with the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Luxembourg.

Comprising case studies from seven countries ranging from the Czech Republic to India and South Africa, the report also reveals new problems emerging around ArcelorMittal’s iron ore-mining operations in Nimba County, Liberia, including unclear resettlement plans for local people, a lack of permanent employment from the mine, threats to the Mount Nimba Nature Reserve, and a questionable donation of 100 pickup trucks.

The action of another manufacturer also raises controversy. Anglo American is a global mining company with a portfolio that spans diamonds, platinum, copper, iron ore and more. The emissions from a new Anglo American underground mine project in Chile could be catastrophic for the nation, ecologists reveal. The multinational company has so far avoided scrutiny of the project by hollowing out regional environmental organisations and sharing erroneous information with the scientific community. Anglo American, a London Stock Exchange listed company, has tunnelled under a Chilean glacier, with a plan to excavate copper and approximately 166 million tonnes of raw material from beneath the Yerba Loca nature sanctuary. This is equivalent to the volume of 127 Costanera Centre towers—South America’s tallest building, which sits at 300 metres and is located in Santiago. It then plans to backfill the entire mine with approximately 114.9 million tonnes of concrete.

The carbon footprint of the 3.4 million tonnes of cement required will be equivalent to 3.2 percent of the South American nation’s 2016 carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, or the collective carbon dioxide emissions of 20 of the world’s least-polluting countries. The number rises to 9.7 percent if Anglo American’s plan to extend the life of the mine from 2036 to 2065 is agreed.

We have more good examples.

The third largest steelmaker in the world is Nippon Steel. Each year beginning from 2015, the company has conducted a forest environment preservation activity—Greenship Action. In order to protect the valuable nature in the Tokyo metro area, with the cooperation of NPOs and members of the local forestry industry, Nippon Steel have been performing thinning work and creating access roads in the mountain forests of Ome City in Tokyo. Although cutting down trees may seem like environmental destruction, if the forest is left on its own, the trees will grow increasingly dense, resulting in a dark and unhealthy forest due to the lack of sunlight penetration. By identifying necessary and unnecessary trees, and removing the unnecessary ones, a suitable amount of sunlight can enter, restoring an environment that allows a diverse range of woodland life to coexist. This activity is a valuable opportunity for the participants to personally experience and understand the importance of contributing to society.

The Russian company Nornickel is a global leader in the production of the mineral nickel. Murmansk Oblast and the Taymyr Peninsula have been the homeland for indigenous peoples of the Arctic for generations and are the principal sites for the company’s activities. The Sámi, Nentsy, Nganasan, Entsy, Dolgan, and Evenki communities have preserved the traditional life, culture, and economy of Northern peoples, including reindeer herding, hunting, fishing, and gathering. Healthy and productive ecosystems, both on land and water, are the basis of indigenous people’s culture and identity, supported by the company.

In particular, the company allocates funds for the construction and repair of housing for indigenous peoples, the improvement of small and remote settlements in Taimyr, and the provision of food for the children of reindeer herders. Norilsk Nickel also renders assistance to the indigenous population with air transportation of goods to remote villages, supplies of building materials and fuel.

This article takes a critical look at how large-scale mining works in the emerging global economy. The strategies adopted by governments around the world in recent years to encourage foreign investment in exploration and production of minerals raise questions about how multinational mining companies are approaching environmental and related challenges. And the role of ecology in the policy of companies should only grow.

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10 years to restore our planet. 10 actions that count

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Against a backdrop of environmental crisis, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is a chance to revive the natural world that supports us all.  A decade may sound like a long time. But scientists say that these next ten years will count most in the fight to avert climate change and the loss of millions of species. Here are ten actions in the strategy of the UN Decade that can build a #GenerationRestoration. 

  1. Empower a global movement  

The UN Decade aims to stop and reverse the destruction and degradation of billions of hectares of ecosystems. It is a daunting task, made more complicated by the diversity of ecosystems and the threats they are facing: from lush forests threatened by wildfires to agricultural soils so eroded that they may only carry a few more years of harvests. No single entity can steer the course in this endeavour. The UN Decade thus connects and empowers the actions of the many. Groups and individuals can get informed about restoration opportunities in their area, joining initiatives already underway, or start their own.  

  1. Invest in restoration

Restoration takes resources. Organizations driving activities on the ground are often underfunded and face financial insecurity. While the benefits of restoration far outweigh the costs, it can only happen with long-term financing. Governments, international lenders, development agencies, the private sector and individuals will have to ramp up their support. 

  1. Set the right incentives  

In the long-term, healthier ecosystems can produce bigger harvests, more secure incomes and a healthier environment. But caring for nature can also mean foregoing some of the financial gains of less sustainable practices. There are ways to change this by incentivizing restoration activities and reducing subsidies that finance harmful practices, in the agriculture and fishing industries, for example.

  1. Celebrate leadership  

Over the past years, we have witnessed incredible momentum around restoration. Campaigns to plant trillions of trees have captured the imagination of many communities. Under the Bonn Challenge, more than 60 countries have committed to bringing 350 million hectares of forest landscapes back to life. Indigenous peoples have acted as defenders of their ecosystems for generations. The UN Decade will celebrate leadership and encourage others to step up.  

  1. Shift behaviours  

Deforestation, the depletion of fish stocks and the degradation of agricultural soils are all caused by global consumption patterns. The UN Decade will work with all partners to identify and encourage restoration-friendly consumption. This can range from changes in diets to promoting restoration-based products.  

  1. Invest in research  

Restoration is complex. Practices that work in one ecosystem may have adverse impacts in another. As the climate changes, new uncertainties arise. Returning to a former state may not be desirable as hotter temperatures or shifting rainfall call for more resilient plants and crops. Scientific understanding of how to restore and adapt ecosystems is still developing. Considerable investments are needed to identify the best practices to restore our planet – one plot at a time.  

  1. Build capacity  

Thousands of conservation and restoration initiatives are already underway. The UN Decade will be fuelled by their vision, expertise and dedication. However, practitioners often face barriers that keep them from taking their projects to scale. Other critical sectors, such as finance, require more data and insights to make informed decisions. The UN Decade’s strategy seeks to build the capacity of marginalized groups that stand to lose most from the destruction of ecosystems – such as indigenous peoples, women and youth to take an active role in restoration. 

  1. Celebrate a culture of restoration 

The power to revive our environment does not lie only with governments, experts and practitioners alone. Healing the planet is a cultural challenge. The UN Decade’s strategy therefore calls on artists, storytellers, producers, musicians and connectors to join the #GenerationRestoration. 

  1. Build up the next generation 

Youth and future generations are most impacted by the current rapid destruction of ecosystems – they also stand to benefit the most from a restoration economy. The UN Decade’s strategy links the wellbeing of youth and the goals of restoration. Education for restoration will turn today’s children into ecosystem ambassadors and provide skills for sustainable jobs.

  1. Listen and learn 

We would like to hear from you. Take a quick survey to help us learn more about you and how you want to be involved.  

UN Environment

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