Climate change policies

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The threat of climate change is being addressed globally by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): the long-term objective is 'to stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system'.

Global policies

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to keep global warming below 2 °C, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) must be halved by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels). Developed countries will need to reduce more – between 80 % and 95 % by 2050; advanced developing countries with large emissions (e.g. China, India and Brazil) will have to limit their emission growth.

Agreed in 1997, the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol is a first step towards achieving more substantial global emission reductions. It sets binding emission targets for developed countries that have ratified it, such as the EU Member States, and limits the emission increases of the remaining countries for the first commitment period from 2008 to 2012. The 15 pre-2004 EU Member States (the EU-15) have a joint emission reduction target of 8 % below 1990 levels. Through the internal EU "burden-sharing agreement", some EU Member States are permitted increases in emissions, while others must decrease them. Most Member States that joined the EU after 1 May 2004 have targets of -6 % to -8 % from their base years (mostly 1990).

EU emissions represent about 10 % of total global emissions. The United States, which has a large share of total global GHG emissions, has not ratified the protocol. China and several other countries with large GHG emissions do not have binding emission targets under the protocol. Countries are expected to meet their target mainly through domestic policies and measures. They may meet part of their emission reduction targets by investing in emission-reducing projects in developing countries (the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)) or in developed ones (Joint Implementation (JI)). The CDM is also meant to support sustainable development, e.g. by financing renewable energy projects.

The Cancún Agreements, adopted at the UN Climate Conference in Mexico (December 2010), include a comprehensive finance, technology and capacity-building support package to help developing nations adapt to climate change and adopt sustainable paths to low-emission economies. The agreements also include a time schedule for reviewing the objective of keeping the average global temperature rise below 2 °C. The agreements confirm that developed countries will mobilise USD 100 billion in climate funding for developing countries annually by 2020, and establish a Green Climate Fund through which much of the funding will be channelled.

The 'Durban Platform for Enhanced Action', adopted at the UN conference in South Africa (Dec 2011) agreed a roadmap towards a new legal framework by 2015, applicable to all Parties to the UN climate convention. It also foresees a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, starting in 2013. Agreement was also reached on the design and governance arrangements for the new Green Climate Fund.

EU policies

Climate change mitigation (GHG reduction)

Many European countries have adopted national programmes aimed at reducing emissions. Similar EU-level policies and measures include:

  • increased use of renewable energy (wind, solar, biomass) and combined heat and power installations;
  • improved energy efficiency in buildings, industry, household appliances;
  • reduction of CO2 emissions from new passenger cars;
  • abatement measures in the manufacturing industry;
  • measures to reduce emissions from landfills.

The EU climate and energy package was adopted in 2009 to implement the 20-20-20 targets endorsed by EU leaders in 2007 - by 2020 there should be a 20 % reduction of GHG emissions compared with 1990, a 20 % share of renewables in EU energy consumption, and energy improvement by 20 %.

The core of the package comprises four pieces of complementary legislation.

  1. Revision and strengthening of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS): a single EU-wide cap on emission allowances from 2013 onwards, with a linear annual reduction until 2020 and beyond; the progressive replacement of free allocation of allowances by auctioning; and an expansion of the system to new sectors and gases.
  2. An "Effort Sharing Decision" for emissions from sectors not covered by the EU ETS, e.g. transport, housing, agriculture and waste. Each Member State will have to achieve a binding national emissions limitation target for 2020. Overall, these national targets will cut the EU’s emissions from the non-ETS sectors by 10 % by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.
  3. Binding national targets for renewable energy: this will help reduce EU’s dependence on imported energy as well as bring down GHG emissions.
  4. A legal framework to promote the development and safe use of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The package creates pressure to improve energy efficiency but does not address it directly; the EU’s energy efficiency action plan does.

Adaptation to climate change

Adaptation means anticipating the effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause or exploit opportunities. Early action will save on damage costs later. Adaptation strategies are needed at all levels of administration, from the local to the international level.

Adaptation affects most economic sectors and involves many levels of decision-making. It should be increasingly integrated in numerous policy areas: disaster risk reduction, coastal zone management, agriculture and rural development, health services, spatial planning, regional development, ecosystems and water management. Low-regret measures (suitable under every plausible scenario) and a variety of adaptation options should be considered, e.g. technological measures, ecosystem-based measures, and measures addressing behavioural changes. Adaptation measures include using scarce water resources more efficiently, adapting building codes to future climate conditions and extreme weather events, building flood defences and raising the levels of dykes, developing drought-tolerant crops, choosing tree species and forestry practices less vulnerable to storms and fires, and setting aside land corridors to help species migrate.

Sixteen EEA member countries have prepared National Climate Change Adaptation Strategies. The European Commission published a green paper in 2007 (Adapting to climate change in Europe — options for EU action) and a white paper in 2009 (Adapting to climate change: Towards a European framework for action).

The white paper highlighted the need to mainstream adaptation in all key EU policies, to develop the knowledge base through further research, to support developing countries to improve their resilience and capacity to adapt to climate change (e.g. within the UNFCCC) and to implement a web platform for sharing information. Various actions have taken place since 2009 to mainstreaming adaptation in EU policies. The European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT), launched by the European Commission with EEA in March 2012, aims at various governmental levels to support development of adaptation strategies and actions. A Copernicus  climate change service is being developed, complementary to existing services.

The Commission published a key proposal for an EU adaptation strategy in April 2013. The strategy has three main objectives:

  • Promoting action by Member States: The Commission will encourage all Member States to adopt comprehensive adaptation strategies and will provide funding to help them build up their adaptation capacities and take action. It will also support adaptation in cities by launching a voluntary commitment based on the Covenant of Mayors initiative.
  • 'Climate-proofing' action at EU level by further promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and cohesion policy, ensuring that Europe's infrastructure is made more resilient, and promoting the use of insurance against natural and man-made disasters.
  • Better informed decision-making by addressing gaps in knowledge about adaptation and further developing the European climate adaptation platform (Climate-ADAPT) as the 'one-stop shop' for adaptation information in Europe. 


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