Tackling climate change requires a shift to a resource efficient, low carbon and green economy
Floods Image © iStockphoto
Climate change is the most visible sign of ecological instability so far. SOER 2010 also finds that other key environmental areas are at risk, such as marine ecosystems. This is chiefly because we are consuming more resources than is ecologically stable, while European and global demand for natural resources to feed, clothe, house and transport people is accelerating. We need to do more with less.
Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA
Climate change and international negotiations
Guiding the political discussions on how to limit dangerous interference with the climate system is an internationally recognised goal to limit the global mean temperature increase since pre-industrial times to below 2 °C. The main outcome of the last United Nations climate conference (COP15) was a political agreement – known as the 'Copenhagen Accord' – which recognises this goal by committing to significant emission reductions and raising funds to help the developing world address climate change. Although it does not include legally binding reduction targets, the Accord recognises the need for considerable emission reductions in light of the IPCC assessments. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has subsequently received submissions of national intentions (pledges) to cut and limit GHG emissions by 2020 from 125 parties, which together account for more than 80 % of global emissions.
"The UN meeting in Copenhagen could prove to have been more of a success than a failure if all the commitments, intentions and funding, including fully supporting the pledges of developing economies, are met," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.
This is one of the key results of the new 'Emissions Gap Report', compiled by UNEP and launched in advance of the 2010 UNFCCC conference (COP16) being held in Cancun, Mexico from November 29 to December 10. Building on COP16, world leaders will discuss, and possibly agree on, future measures to mitigate climate change.
The UNEP report finds that nations still have the chance to deliver almost 60 % of the emission reductions needed to keep global temperatures under a 2 °C rise. But only if the pledges made in Copenhagen are fully met. In cold numbers, global emissions need to be cut to around 49 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions by 2020. This would leave a gap of 5 gigatonnes that needs to be bridged over the next decade – no small amount, equal to the annual emissions of all the world’s cars, buses and trucks in 2005. The report adds that the gap could be reduced substantially through a set of policy options available at the Cancun negotiations, such as higher ambition pledges from countries, or more ambitious domestic actions which could be supported by international climate finance.
In any case, "the window for cost effective action is narrowing with every year of delay," says Steiner.
How is Europe doing?
On November 30, one day after talks began in Cancun, the European Environment Agency (EEA) launched its flagship assessment, The European environment – state and outlook 2010 (SOER 2010), in the European Parliament in Brussels. Unsurprisingly, it has a wealth of information related to how Europe is being impacted by, and is adapting to and managing, climate change.
Europe shares the international ambition of limiting global mean temperature increase to below 2 °C. SOER 2010 shows that, toward that end, the European Union (EU) has made progress in cutting emissions and expanding renewable energy. In 2009, greenhouse gas emissions from the 27 Member States of the EU stood 17 % below the 1990 level, and therefore very close to the bloc’s target of cutting emissions 20 % by 2020. The EU is also on track to meet its international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. At the same time, some sectoral trends are not positive – for example, EU-27 emissions from transport rose by 24 % between 1990 and 2008.
SOER 2010 finds that climate change, combined with socio-economic developments, have already had many impacts on Europe's environment. More are expected, such as an increased risk of floods, droughts, loss of biodiversity, threats to human health, and damage to economic sectors such as energy, forestry, agriculture and tourism.
Climate change cannot be tackled in isolation
"Climate change is the most visible sign of ecological instability so far," said Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA. "SOER 2010 also finds that other key environmental areas are at risk, such as marine ecosystems. This is chiefly because we are consuming more resources than is ecologically stable, while European and global demand for natural resources to feed, clothe, house and transport people is accelerating. We need to do more with less."
From this perspective, SOER 2010 finds that we cannot try to tackle one environmental challenge in isolation from others. Climate change negotiators in Cancun may agree to anchor their pledges made in Copenhagen, and may even strengthen and compliment them. But in the long-term, today's European and global environmental challenges will only be resolved through a complete shift to a resource-efficient, low carbon and green economy that requires that all environmental resources – biodiversity, land, carbon, rivers, the seas and the air we breathe – are fully considered in production, consumption and global trade decisions.
More on climate change and Europe's environment
Overall, SOER 2010 provides information about the current state of Europe's environment, its likely future state, what is being done and what could be done to improve it, how global developments might affect future trends, and more. SOER 2010 products with a focus on climate change include: a chapter in the 'synthesis'; three Europe-wide assessments on Understanding climate change, Mitigating climate change, and Adapting to climate change; assessments from European countries on Climate change mitigation; and 'SOER 2010 in a policy context' which links SOER 2010 to European climate change policy.