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When we got back to our desks in the New Year we decided that we had to do something to try and get things moving again after the demise of international negotiations. And there was one obvious target for us, the EU, and one obvious deadline – January 31st the date when countries have to enter their targets into the Copenhagen Accord.

Previously top of the league in tackling climate change, the EU’s performance at Copenhagen risked putting us into the relegation zone. But with the political accord agreed at Copenhagen yet to be finalised, there is still a chance for the EU to regain its reputation as a leader on a climate change by increasing its emission reduction target to at least a 30% cut on 1990 levels.

As you reach for your mouse to click and sign our letter to EU Leaders
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you might also be interested to know what happened to EU leadership on climate change and why it is now so easy for them to be far bolder. So a brief history…

The EU got ahead of the game in 2008 by announcing that it would cut its CO2 emissions by 20% on 1990 levels, moving to 30% if other developed countries offered similar commitments. The stated aim was to use this ‘conditional’ target as a carrot to get other countries, not least the United States, to do more on climate change. A worthy aim perhaps, but the EU’s carrot doesn’t seem to have been very enticing to anyone at the Copenhagen talks. The US arrived with its offer of cutting emissions by 17% on 2005 levels, and left with the same target – unprepared to go further until domestic legislation had been passed. Other emerging economies such as Brazil and Mexico came straight out and offered challenging targets to cut their emissions, and in this case, no carrot from the EU was needed.

But the EU’s target is not only out of date as a negotiation strategy, it’s also out of date on ambition. Since 2008 the world’s economy has entered a prolonged and painful recession. Perhaps the only good thing that has come out of the recession has been a cut to carbon emissions. This means that, from where we stand today, moving to a 30% target is at least €100 billion cheaper than it originally was to cut by 20%. Our new analysis shows that using surplus permits from emissions trading combined with access to overseas offsets could mean that staying on 20% would require barely any extra domestic effort between now and 2020.

There are strong positive reasons for moving towards tougher targets on CO2. One of the strongest areas for growth over the next ten years is likely to be in clean and green technologies and the EU risks getting left behind economically if it does not increase its target. And in any case recent policy decisions will cushion most old industries from the effect of tighter targets so there really is very little downside to taking on more ambition.

Like someone in a bad relationship it is time for the EU to move on. Kicking off the new decade with a move to at least 30% reductions in emissions the EU could help repair relations with developing countries and inject some much needed momentum into the international negotiations. And if all countries were to offer their best targets to the Copenhagen Accord later this month we’d also know for the first time, exactly how far we have to go in order to keep world temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees. There’s already a new EU president, shortly there will be a new European Commission, so lets also have a new EU climate change target – EU, you’re not done yet.