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Europe's Municipal Leaders Criticise Commission's Weak Climate Targets

Europe's Committee of the Regions has added its voice to those criticising the 2030 targets for tackling climate change set out in a Green Paper yesterday by the European Commission.

The Committee of the Regions is the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives from all 28 Member States, and includes representatives of cities and municipal authorities.

Its statement lamented the lack of recognition given to the efforts and experience of cities in leading action on tackling climate change.

The European Commission is proposing targets of a 40% reduction of emissions from 1990 levels, to use renewable energy for 27% of its energy, and to employ a reserve mechanism to regulate its carbon market.

Whilst there had been concern that, under pressure from industry, a 35% target would be set, scientists widely agree - and environmental NGOs lobbied for - a 50% target in order to attempt to limit global warming to within 2°C this century.

Connie Hedegaard, the EU's climate commissioner said that unlike the EU's 2020 target of a 20% CO2 reduction, the 40% target for 2030 could not be met by 'carbon offsets' and would require real emissions reductions.

José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission, said, making the announcement: "If we go from 20% [greenhouse gas reductions] in 2020 to 40% in 2030, I am sure everyone realises that this is a very ambitious goal".

But the proposals completely ignore the benefit of having a goal for improving energy efficiency and a legal requirement upon member states to increase renewable energy.

Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the UK's widely-respected Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, described the EU package as "a sad day for science, rationality and humanity" that would lock high carbon-emitting infrastructure into the continent's economic future. Greenpeace and other NGOs also condemned the Paper.

Europe's Committee of the Regions issued a statement saying that it had hoped for a 50% target, and improved legal targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Sirpa Hartell,  Finnish Vice-Chair of Espoo City Council

Sirpa Hertell (pictured) is the Finnish Vice-Chair of Espoo City Council, and is leading the Committee of the Regions' response to the proposals. She said: "The EU, responsible for 10-11% of the world's GHG emissions, needs structural changes with an ambitious set of binding targets for not only GHG and renewables, but also for energy efficiency if it is to continue on a path towards green and sustainable economic growth". 

Hertell expects to receive full backing for this position from all other local and regional politicians when the full Committee meets on 30 January.

She said that while she welcomed the Commission's proposal to introduce targets on greenhouse gases and renewable energy, "renewables is a growth sector boosting competitiveness, creating jobs and attracting much needed investment in our communities. However, Europe's local and regional authorities insist that the EU member states must take a step further in our ambition which is why we propose 50% reduction in GHGs."

She also criticised "not setting obligatory targets on energy efficiency" which she called "an opportunity missed. We should have learned from the 2020 framework: only energy efficiency was not binding and was the only target not reached". Member states are currently only on track to make 17% energy savings by 2020, compared to the 20% target.
Citing a UNDP report indicating that local and regional authorities are responsible for 70% of climate mitigation and 90% of adaptation measures, Hertell also criticised the lack of a clear reference to the role of local and regional authorities in the proposals.

"Local and regional authorities are key in developing appropriate approaches to climate change and shaping the communities of the future," she said. "I deeply regret that given their responsibility for implementing climate protection and energy saving measures, they have not been appropriately recognised".

She added that cities were ready and already leading: "Through the Committee's opinion and successful initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors, local and regional authorities have shown that they have the political will and commitment to tackling climate change."

She said that in her home country, Finland, 14 carbon-neutral municipalities are collaborating with local businesses, policy makers and residents to achieve an 80% reduction of emissions.
Anne Delvaux MEP backed this position adding, "On 9 January, the joint ENVI/ITRE committee in the European Parliament voted in favour of three binding targets. The role of the local and regional authorities is essential in the achievement of our climate and energy objectives.

"I am also convinced that energy efficiency deserves to be one of the cornerstones of the EU 2030 climate and energy policy, alongside a structurally reformed ETS. It is disappointing to note that the Commission, despite all the benefits acknowledged to energy efficiency, does not include it in its framework proposal".

The final package proposed by the Commission still needs to be discussed by a European Parliament. This has already proposed a much stronger climate package. But member states have been led by the UK which lobbied for the weaker targets.

No final decision is expected on the 2030 goals until at least June.