2015 will be a very special year for our planet, it will be its new dawn or its downfall.
This year the United Nations (UN) lunched in September the Global Goals for Sustainable Development to make the world a better place within 2030. They substitutes the old Millennium Goals of 2000. One of the main differences is that now sustainability has a central role. This Monday Paris will be at the center of the world because it will host the COP21, the 21th Conference of the Parties on climate change, organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). It is going to be as (if not most) important as the Kyoto Protocol, which built the basement of international cooperation against global warming and climate change. The over 190 delegations must reach an agreement in order to contain temperature’s growth under 2°C by 2050, considered by the scientific community as the “point of no return” if broken. They state that if temperatures increases more than 2°C, all actions taken afterward are going to be pointless, as consequences are irreversible.
The predicted effects of this augmentation will be disastrous both for environment and for our society. Sea level will increase from 18 to 59 cm, hurricanes and storms are likely to become stronger, floods and droughts more common and frequent, people will move from tropic countries to norther one, increasing the migrant pressure and food security and clean water access to poor people will become harder and harder. This makes COP21 even more important than all its predecessors. Actions must be taken now, with a comprehensive effort by all nations.
At the moment, 155 countries have already sent their commitments to UNFCC. They will be the starting point for negotiations. The five biggest polluter (China, the United States, the European Union, Russia and Japan) have all presented big plans.
China engaged in reducing its emissions of CO2 by 60-65% of GDP points with respect to (henceforth w.r.t.) 2005 level. The Unites States (which are by far, the biggest CO2 producer per-capita) are ready to reduce their CO2 emissions by 26-28 % w.r.t 2005 level. The EU (the current leader in the global effort against climate change) agreed to cut
emissions by 40% by 2030 w.r.t 1990 levels; Russia from 25 to 30% w.r.t 1990 and Japan by 30% by 2030 w.r.t 2013 levels. The targets and the commitments of all countries can be seen here: http://www4.unfccc.int/submissions/indc/Submission%20Pages/submissions.aspx
They are all important targets, but they are not enough. The UNFCC wants COP21 to be the first legally binding agreement on climate change. However, how this is going to be implemented is left unknown. The UN (and its agencies) has no authority to impose any kind of sanctions to defaulting countries.
In this context, the European Union has a key role. It is the leader and leading superpower in green energies and for the first time its 28 Member States are coming with a common target and a common goal. Therefore, the EU has by far more political power than during the Kyoto summit. In my opinion, the EU must try to reach a deal in which both private and public sector are involved. Regarding the private side, we must remember that a new technology, if it is appreciate by the market, can replace the older one within few years, as the oil did with the coal. Therefore, “why not with green energies?” One may say. The fact is that they are still too expensive with respect to classical energy resources. Markets have a different clock than environment. We cannot sit and wait to see fossil fuels prices becoming so high that they will be pushed out from market and replaced by another technology. This is going to take decades and, as said before, we do not have time. Therefore, we must “artificially” make fossil fuels financially unsustainable. The EU must encourage partners to establish a global Emission Trading System (like the one in place among the Member States), managed by the United Nations, where every country has its maximum amount of emissions. Then, national governments assign these quotas to their firms. These latter, must be able to exchange quotas worldwide, therefore setting up a global “Emission stock-exchange”. This will incentive firms to innovate as the emission roof will be decreased year by year, therefore increasing the quotas’ prices. An Emission Trading Scheme like this will bring the help of the market in fighting global warming, as the most firms are ecofriendly, the lesser they will pay. The agreement must have a strict timetable so that firms know when the root reach the lowest level. In this way, they can build their industrial plans taking into account that they have to pollute lesser and lesser.
Second, fiscal policy can come to help. As known, most of the taxes are distortive and indirectly make something more or less desirable. Countries can use their power to impose taxes to distort markets by increasing, for instance, their excise on fossil fuels, taxes on
high polluting cars and low efficient heating systems, and VAT on polluting goods, year after year. The aim of these policies is to enhance incentives to go green. On one side, firms innovate to use eco technologies, on the other consumers redirect their money to green products. Of course, the money collected with these levies can be used to help incentive green projects such as electric cars, hydrogen fuel, fusion energy, solar panels, etc.
I know that a plan like this is hard to be set up in the next few years. There are many political issues. For instance, if a republican wins the next presidential elections in the US, the second polluter may not follow the deal, as the current candidates say that global warming is not real or it is not a big issue. There is also India, which is going to be a big CO2 producer, which conditioned its engagement to an international financial aid. Of course, big oil companies will try to throw a spanner in the works to defend their position.
Personally, I think that COP21 is going to be a little success. The EU can work together with China, which is now the only big superpower really engaged against pollution, to reach a good deal. Moreover, we must remember that we have one planet, and pollutions and natural disasters do not care about national borders, political sides or whether a country is rich or poor. On that, we are all equal.
Simone Bussu, European Generation