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Unconditional 30% emissions reduction move blocked by MEPs

Europe was poised this week to poised to make world-leading, unconditional emissions target reductions of 30% compared to 1990 levels (up from the existing 20% target). Yet the European Parliament this week voted only to pass through an amended report, one with numerous compromises on initially ambitious aims. Moves to 30% reductions by 2020 are not completely foregone, but rely on economic and political conditions being improved and continued lobbying from green groups.

A small step not taken
As Europe is in fact already 17.9% below 1990 emissions rates, a move to 30% cuts by 2020 would have merely meant maintaining current downward trends, and 30% jump has in fact been supported by a number of European businesses.

British Conservative MEPs were largely responsible for directing the disappointing result, though Polish MEPs and even the author of the report that sparked the reduction proposal, Dutch Green Bas Eickhout, also voted against a unilateral 30% step-up. This ensured a least-worst result, narrowly avoiding complete rejection of the proposals.

The arguments against more stringent reductions were based on the potential damage to industry and the European economy. Rather than being a global pioneer in emissions targets, many MEPs believe that worldwide agreements need to be made to ensure European businesses are not left behind compared to American or Asian competitors. Such tentative policy making prevents maximization of the carbon-saving potential of the EU ETS in a number of ways.

A missed oppourtunity for the environment

Firstly the report that the EP voted on was based on sound scientific data that indicated a reduction of 30% should be adopted to drive towards safe emissions scenarios. In order to maintain warming below 2˚C, business-as- usual is not enough, according to the report’s authors. In fact, a 40% move was seen as optimal. Greenhouse gas emissions are now linked to extreme weather events with increased certainty, as well as long-term warming trend.

Holding back the carbon market
Recommended emissions reductions would have been achieved through reducing permit allocations in the imminent Phase II of the EU ETS. From an ETS perspective, tightening the current allocations would ensure the long-term health of the market, rather than risking further falls in the price of carbon. Currently the system is estimated to have a shortage 1.1 billion tonnes by 2020, a 30% reduction would have increased this shortage to 1.4 according to the latest paper from sandbag.org.uk.

Hindering green sector innovation
Also, a 30% step up would create numerous job oppourtunities by catalyzing innovation and investment in green technologies. Missed EU ETS auction revenue will prevent further investment in green technologies such as carbon capture and storage by governments.

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