Europe and Central Asia
15 Dec 2015

...And then Paris saved 2015

While energy targets were agreed to in 2014, little progress has been made to achieve them. Photo: NABU
By Sini Erajaa

On climate and energy policies, the year 2015 has left us still waiting for Europe’s vision on how exactly to fight climate change during the next decade. While headline targets for emissions savings, renewable energy and energy efficiency until 2030 were already agreed at the end of 2014, little progress has been made during the year on how exactly we are planning to reach those targets. Ahead of the international climate negotiations in Paris, the EU’s been shy to talk about concrete measures.

The issue of appropriate governance to ensure that headline targets are met has been muddled under the governance of the whole Energy Union, which has various work areas beyond climate change mitigation. A recently published consultancy report for BirdLife Europe and the RSPB makes a clear call for better and more comprehensive planning for using renewable energy to ensure it’s done in harmony with nature, but the recent Energy Union package left much to be desired in this sense.

In some of the other areas that BirdLife Europe has highlighted as priorities in its ‘manifesto’ for EU’s 2030 climate policies published in last February, some progress has been made. The EU has agreed a higher target for an interconnected power grid by 2030, so we can expect further drives to speed up consent for priority power lines. Our industry and NGO allies in the Renewables Grid Initiative have been making it very clear in energy policy circles that this must not be at the expense of nature protection, and does not require changes to EU nature legislation.

The Commission has confirmed its commitment to include the land use and forest sectors in the EU’s climate change mitigation efforts next decade as well as to propose a new sustainability policy for all bioenergy. These are both welcomed by BirdLife Europe, but the moment of truth is still to come. Whether these policies will be meaningful and really address true sustainability concerns on bioenergy outlined by NGOs remains to be seen.

Then, of course, COP21 happened in Paris and the year ended on a positive note. The agreement has clearly a number of positive features. Three, at least, are worth a mention. 

The first one is the unprecedented number of signatories. Unlike Kyoto, the Paris deal does include almost all countries on the planet. The second one is ambition: the 1.5°C limit and carbon neutrality after 2050 are goals that can produce nothing but joy in the climate action camp. Unfortunately the "ambition mechanisms", the set of measures and processes that must translate the ambition into reality, are still very vague and have very little teeth to induce national governments to take the right path. The "no back-sliding clause" (countries can only have progressively more ambitious plans at the 5 year reviews of their national targets from 2020) does offer some reassurance, but it's clearly not enough.

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The third, and closest to our hearts, is the "nature narrative". Once and for all the role of healthy ecosystems, from forests to oceans, in fighting climate change has been recognised and reflected in the Agreement from its very preamble. And for once, adaptation measures have been fully recognised as strategic and vital in fighting the most dangerous consequences of global warming, hopefully closing the gap between "conservationists" and "climate activists".

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.