Climate change: investing in low-carbon solutions and adaptation

Article Published 16 Dec 2014 Last modified 21 Jan 2015, 09:20 AM
Our climate is changing. We need to adapt to current and expected changes, while maximising our efforts to quickly and sharply reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. And 2015 can be a turning point for global climate policies. Europe and the world must seize the opportunity and allocate sufficient funds to end the carbon dependency of the global economy.

 Image © Miroslav Milev, Environment & Me/EEA

The recent climate talks in Lima, Peru, took a step forward towards reaching a global agreement in Paris. Parties agreed to describe their proposed targets in a way that will bring clarity and understanding as to whether we are on track to achieve the 2 degree centigrade objective. They also agreed that adaptation and finance will be at the core of the 2015 Paris agreement. 2015 will be an important year for defining the ambition level for global climate policies post-2020.

Continuing on the current path of global greenhouse gas emissions is very risky. The Fifth Assessment Report, published in November by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, states ‘Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history…Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally’.

Our economic activities, and our dependence on fossil fuels in particular, release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. The impacts of climate change are increasingly being felt by communities around the world. Extreme weather events, such as the floods that affected millions of people across Europe in May and August, are projected to increase in intensity and frequency.

With such high stakes, Europe cannot remain indifferent or inactive. We need to prepare and adapt to a changing climate. We also need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than is envisaged by current measures.

Climate and energy framework

The European Union has put in place ambitious long-term goals on climate change mitigation, namely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 % below 1990 levels by 2050. These goals are to be implemented in steps. Our recent report shows that in 2013 the EU reduced its domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 19 % compared to 1990 levels. The target of a 20 % reduction by 2020 is clearly within reach.

In October, the European Council endorsed EU climate and energy objectives for 2030. These include two binding targets for the EU: by 2030 greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced domestically by at least 40 % compared to 1990 levels, and the share of renewable energy consumed will be at least 27 %. The European Council also set an indicative target of improving energy efficiency by at least 27 % in 2030 compared to projections of ‘business as usual’ energy consumption. In addition, the climate and energy framework listed energy security, internal energy markets, and key infrastructure projects as areas for further action.

A series of policy initiatives will be proposed by the Commission to implement this 2030 framework in the EU. In spring 2015, the EU will formally submit the 40 % reduction target as part of its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the UNFCCC as a contribution to the process leading up to COP21 in Paris.

Tackling emissions from all key sectors

The EU is also improving the tools it already has. For example, it is reforming the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) — one of the key tools for reducing EU emissions — to improve its performance.

Key sources of greenhouse gas emissions like agriculture and transport remain outside the EU-ETS. The EU is working hard to ensure that these sectors also reduce their emissions. These are covered by the Effort Sharing Decision, which caps emissions in a way similar to the EU ETS. To meet their relatively stringent 2030 national targets, Member States will need to step up their efforts in achieving emission reductions in these non-ETS sectors. 

Investing in low-carbon technology and adaptation

Achieving a 40 % emissions reduction by 2030 — and 80-95% reduction by 2050 in particular — will partly depend on the EU’s ability to channel sufficient amounts of public and private funds towards sustainable and innovative technology. Carbon prices and regulations are instrumental in steering investments towards climate-friendly innovations, in particular in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

In some cases, funding decisions might also entail divesting from some sectors. Europe and the world cannot continue subsidising sustainable solutions while also providing subsidies to unsustainable ones such as fossil fuels. Structural changes to key systems, such as energy and transport, require long-term investments in our infrastructures.

In fact, all investment decisions should be taken with climate change – its current and expected future impacts – in mind. We need to be more proactive on climate change adaptation and start investing today in building infrastructures and cities able to cope with the impacts of a changing climate. By making the right investments today we will save money in the future.

Now we need to use the momentum from Lima to reach a global deal in Paris next year.


Executive Director

Editorial published in the issue no. 2014/4 of the EEA newsletter, December 2014.


For more information on global climate talks and the EU’s position, see UNFCCC and the European Commission’s press release

Geographic coverage

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100