Off target?

So EC climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard today finally published a paper backing away from a proposal that Europe commit itself to a 30% reduction in emissions by 2020 (despite rumours to the contary on the front page of The Times, subsequently taken to task by George Monbiot!).

The economic slump since 2008 means that the existing 20% target now looks a lot easier and cheaper to achieve. The financial crisis also took the steam out of the EU ETS carbon market. With Greece in fiscal meltdown and austerity measures under way in Spain, Portugal and now the UK, Europe may well see a serious double dip recession, making even a 30% target much less scary than it seems. A shift up to 30% would also have resuscitated the carbon market. But of course there has been resistance, not least from Germany and eastern Europe, but also the Confederation of British Industry here in the UK. All of this is a reminder of how politically difficult a direct target-led approach is.

On the face of it, this looks like a real blow for those who think Europe should try to rescue its global climate leadership in the wake of the Copehagen fiasco. However, it is far from clear that just hiking the target up from 20% to 30% would really impress anyone. Chinese observers, for example, can see the effects of the recession very clearly (it will help the UK meet its first carbon budget with very little additional effort, according to the Climate Change Commitee). What would impress internationally is demonstration of real decarbonisation, with or without new targets. But with new unabated coal-fired power stations still being built across Europe, showing-by-doing is still some way off.

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