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Tomorrow the European Union, alongside over 150 states, will sign the Paris agreement at a ceremony in New York. But can we really live up to the promise of keeping the world below 1.5 degrees warming with the current low level of ambition in the European 2030 climate and energy framework? In a letter to the EU leaders, together with a Coalition for Higher Ambition, Sandbag asks the European leaders to “walk the talk” and boost Europe’s carbon reduction targets.


Image used under a creative commons licence.

The Coalition for Higher Ambition, a group of businesses, trade unions, local authorities and civil society organisations, says:

We believe that there is a real risk that the current level of ambition of legislation on the table will harm Europe’s chances of reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement, in a fair and equitable manner. Put simply, Europe’s 2030 legislative agenda risks locking-in insufficient ambition, and thereby undermining the integrity of Europe’s climate policies.

Showcasing European leadership abroad entails that we “walk the talk” at home. Sandbag and the Coalition for Higher Ambition remind European leaders that 2016 will be the principal year for the implementation on the Paris Agreement domestically. Over the next months, Europe’s two framing carbon budgets implementing the 2030 climate and energy framework will be debated and largely determined. The outcome will largely set the tone for the 2018 first global stocktake. Will Europe continue to lead, or will we fall behind on our responsibilities to cut emissions?

The European Commission has signalled that it does not intend to increase the level of its climate ambition until after 2030. The current level of the EU ambition for 2030 is nowhere near the Paris Agreement’s promise to “pursuing efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C and usher net zero carbon emissions by the second half of this century” – yet European negotiation played a pivotal role in driving this statement into the final Agreement. Sandbag has clearly outlined how the ambition of the current 2020 climate target and the proposed 2030 targets remain inadequate to deliver the goals agreed even under a much less ambitious 2 degree temperature goal.

However, our research findings show that Europe’s targets are out of step with emission cuts on the ground; Europe is set to massively over-deliver against its 2020 climate target. We project that domestic emissions will fall 30% below 1990 levels by 2020, creating a clear opportunity to easily step up the 2020 climate target (which is currently 20% below 1990, with offsets).

Figure 1 Progress on cutting emissions: Member State and Sandbag forecasts compared


Source: EUTL data, EEA: Trends and Projections in the EU ETS 2015, Sandbag’s own calculations.

That overachievement can demonstrate to the global community that we are ready to play our part in support of the objectives of the Paris Agreement, and encourage and support other countries to also take on higher ambition.  But we must not solely rely on what has been done so far. This is an opportunity for the EU to assert its global leadership and export its knowledge and innovations developed in this field. Let’s not miss it!

Sandbag and the Coalition for Higher Ambition now want to see the development of a robust European policy framework with strong, economy-wide targets, and clear timetables that will allow the EU to become a net zero-carbon economy, driving increased deployment of clean energy supply and energy efficiency measures.

How can the EU step up its ambition after the Paris agreement?

  1. Allow excess allowances from the current Effort Sharing Decision to expire in 2020
    Under Member State forecasts 1,543 to 1,724 million spare allowances are expected to accumulate in the Effort Sharing Decision by 2020. These are currently set to expire at the end of that year. A clear commitment that these allowances will not be carried forward, broadly equates to increasing the 2020 target by 7%.
  2. Cancel 1.5 billion allowances from the Market Stability Reserve at the end of 2020
    Sandbag expects around 2 billion tonnes of ETS allowances to have accumulated in the Market Stability Reserve by 2020. Permanently cancelling 1.5 billion allowances from the MSR would be broadly equivalent to increasing the 2020 climate target by 5%.
  3. Adopt a stronger 2030 target through a stronger EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) cap
    Europe should look to strengthen its 2030 target and adopt a 50% climate target in 2030.This would involve a much larger contribution from the EU ETS, and might also require the reconsideration of using offset credits towards a stronger goal. Our July 2015 report Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger explores one option by which offsets might be reintroduced to the 2030 framework, in exchange for higher ambition.

Detailed policy recommendations on how to translate the Paris agreement into the EU domestic climate policy can be found in our latest briefing “Honouring Paris“.

The Coalition for Higher Ambition in the letter to the EU leadership concludes:

Together we must develop an innovative and sustainable European economy that will allow all of Europe to benefit in terms of good quality jobs, sustainable development, improved competitiveness and better public health, while ensuring a just transition for the workforce, and a healthy environment.

Such a Europe will also be more credible and influential on the global stage, regaining its status as a committed leader on climate action, and strengthening Europe’s role as a fair partner, particularly to countries who are vulnerable to climate change impacts.