EU contributions to take warming below 2°C

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    The international community’s tireless efforts to bring about a universal multilateral climate agreement finally paid off. But now comes the hardest part: putting our promises into action.
    The Paris Agreement sketches out the road towards a global transition but it is up to us to make it happen. The transition to a low-emission, resource-efficient and climate-resilient global economy demands a fundamental shift in technologies, energy systems, in business and investment behaviour, and ultimately, in society as a whole. That is why, if we are to have a realistic chance of achieving our collective goal to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C, and build a healthier planet with fairer societies and more prosperous economies for future generations, we have to start right now.

    Swift implementation a key challenge

    As of now, the swift implementation of the Paris Agreement is the most pressing challenge for all countries. In Europe, the shift to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy is well underway. With the benefit of more than 10 years experience in implementing climate policy, we have already started work to translate our Paris commitment to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030 into action.

    We are in the process of reforming the EU emissions trading system to ensure it remains the most efficient way to cut emissions in the decade to come. This year we will also be proposing legislation to reduce emissions in the non-emission trading scheme sectors, including land use, as well as measures that accelerate public and private investment in innovation and modernisation in all key sectors. Achieving our target will not be easy, but we are confident that through ambitious implementation of legislation we can ensure EU emissions are reduced in line with our Paris commitment. Since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions in the EU have fallen by 23% while our economy has grown by 46%, so we have a good record on delivering. We are ready to share our experience. Many countries will be putting climate action plans into place for the first time which brings its own challenges. Regardless of our starting point, none of us are alone in this: we are all working towards the same common goal. The EU supported many partner countries in all regions of the world in the preparation of their climate plans and it will continue to do so as they move to the implementation phase. The good news is that the Paris Agreement is setting clear steps towards the convergence of climate change policies globally. Take carbon pricing as an example. Some 40 countries already use carbon pricing mechanisms – covering around 7 billion tonnes of CO2, or 12% of global emissions. We can only expect this number to grow as countries start to implement their commitments and learn from existing best practices. The EU is already sharing its experience in emissions trading with others, including China, which has seven pilot programmes up and running and plans to develop a nationwide emissions trading system from 2017.

    Opportunities: jobs and growth

    Beyond the challenges, there are many opportunities for economic transformation, jobs and growth in the EU and in all countries. These can also contribute to achieving broader sustainable development goals to achieve low-emission development in the context of inclusive sustainable growth and poverty eradication.

    We know that investments will have to go beyond business as usual – some US$13.5 trillion in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies to implement climate action plans over the next 15 years, according to the International Energy Agency. But we also know that these plans will not only lead to a scaling up but also a rebalancing of investments across energy sources and sectors. A rapid scaling up of private investment in low-emission technologies will be crucial to support the clean energy transition and avoid locking-in high emissions infrastructure and assets. Happily, on many issues, we are moving in the right direction. Global renewable energy investments in 2015 outstripped fossil fuel investments, reaching a record US$286 billion in 2015, according to a recent UN report. And for the first time, the developing world (up to 19% in 2015) outdid developed nations (down 8%), with South Africa among the top ten investing countries (US$4.5 billion, up 329%). Investment is the engine of growth, and with it comes jobs. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), doubling the global share of renewables by 2030 would increase employment in the renewables sector from more than 9 million global jobs today to 24 million, while increasing global GDP by up to US$1.3 trillion.

    Access to energy a top priority

    At the same time, another global task has to be accomplished in the coming years: bringing clean energy to the one in five people globally with no access to electricity. Energy poverty, which is particularly acute in Africa, must be resolved in a low-carbon way. The Paris Agreement recognises the important role renewables have to play in this respect, particularly in the context of Africa, putting them at the forefront of the global energy transformation.

    The African Renewable Energy Initiative, unveiled at the Paris climate conference, has the potential to contribute to accelerating access to renewable energy in Africa, unlocking the continent's vast renewable energy potential. A lot of good work is already being done through cooperation forums such as the Africa-EU Energy Partnership, the EU's Electrification Financing Initiative (ElectriFI) and the Technical Assistance Facility for Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All), funded by the EU. The Covenant of Mayors initiative supported by the EU is a unique opportunity to increase the capacities of African cities to provide access to sufficient, sustainable and safe energy services to urban and peri-urban populations, with special emphasis on energy efficiency as a driver for local and climate-resilient development. Good coordination between the different African and international renewable energy initiatives can ensure that synergies are fully exploited. African countries have recently given a coordinating role to the African Development Bank, which will set up a delivery unit for the African Renewable Energy Initiative. The bilateral joint declarations on reinforced cooperation in the field of sustainable energy, which have important climate benefits, can also play an important role for donor coordination. These encourage domestic policy reforms and enhance political commitment to sustainable energy. The European Commission has already signed joint declarations with 20 states (14 in Africa and 6 Pacific Island States) as well as with the group of EU Overseas Countries and Territories.

    Climate action: a win-win-win

    Switching to cleaner fuels will not only cut emissions but also reduce pollution in homes and cities and improve the health of millions of Africans who currently cook with diesel, kerosene and wood, often in a manner leading to high indoor-pollution. The transition to clean energy will also bring new jobs and energy security. We are already seeing how countries like Morocco (solar power), Kenya (geothermal energy) and South Africa (independent producers of renewable energy) are leading the way in renewables in Africa.

    Climate action also helps avoid environmental, economic and societal pressures, including migration, that can be exacerbated by climate change. These pressures can be alleviated in two ways: by reducing emissions which contribute to climate change, and adapting to climate impacts by ensuring, for example, that agricultural systems do not become dysfunctional and can still provide food and jobs. The EU is helping to strengthen Africa's ability to deal with these pressures and supports many adaptation projects through the Global Climate Change Alliance programme and other initiatives. As we embark on this new journey together towards a safer and more sustainable future, Africa can count on the EU's support. For more information on the EU's work in Africa and developing countries see: 2015. European Union Climate Funding for Developing Countries 2015. 2014. Africa Climate Briefing About the author Artur Runge-Metzger is the Director of Climate Strategy at the European Commission.
    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 3  (May/June 2016).
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