There has been a lot of talk over the last few weeks about Britain’s place in Europe, but there’s one thing that I hope we can all agree. We need the EU to help prevent climate change.
We are an island nation, a trading nation, dependent on the global market for prosperity – for food, for energy, for many of the products we rely on in. It is unsurprising that the UK was one of the first countries to recognise that significant climate change will directly affect our way of life. And we were the first country to bind ourselves to the low-carbon path through the 2008 Climate Change Act.
But acting alone will not solve the global problem. Successive Governments have recognised that the best way to tackle climate change, without threatening economic competitiveness, has been to work through the EU for a global climate deal – and making sure the EU leads by example.
As the climate talks in Durban in 2011 showed definitively, when negotiating with super-economies like China, India and the United States, we are far better off negotiating as a European bloc.
Why? Because together we represent 504 million people and 25% of the world’s GDP (compared with 63 million people and 3% of the world’s GDP as the UK alone). And because the action the EU is taking on emissions means we are able to negotiate from a position of authority.
In 2008, the EU led the world in tackling climate change by agreeing binding emissions reductions targets up to 2020. Emissions are down by over 17%, and this has had a galvanising effect on green growth in Europe. The European market for low carbon environmental goods and services grew by 3.5% to £740 billion in 2010/11 alone, positioning us for a global green market now at over £3.3 trillion.
But, as a bloc, we need to look further ahead than this 2020 horizon. When it comes to investment decisions on energy projects that will last into the middle of the century and beyond, 2020 is fast becoming the rear view mirror. So we need to move on to the next phase of agreements in Europe – to 2030 and beyond. And we need to do so in a context that is different to 2007 when the last agreement was being negotiated.
Then practically no EU Member State had established climate policies; most renewables technologies were immature; and we were at the peak of an economic boom. Now, six years later, renewable technology is maturing and other technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage and new nuclear are set to contribute to the low-carbon mix over the coming years. We are in a different economic environment that is challenging European countries to address competitiveness and growth.
So the UK will be arguing two things in the coming negotiations over the EU’s position for 2030.
First, the EU should adopt an ambitious emissions reduction target for 2030 of 50% on 1990 levels as part of Europe’s approach to the getting a global deal in 2015. And even if such a global deal doesn’t come about, the EU should aim for a unilateral 40% reduction. These targets are achievable, affordable and necessary if we are to limit climate change to manageable proportions.
Second, we need a technology neutral approach to how individual countries meet their emissions targets. We want to maintain flexibility for Member States in the exact energy mix they use. The UK is committed to increasing renewables in our own domestic energy mix. The tripling of support available for low carbon electricity through the £7.6bn Levy Control Framework provides an immediate boost. And the radical reforms to the electricity market set out in the Energy Bill will also incentivise renewables to 2020 and beyond.
Yet there are a variety of options to decarbonise any country’s energy: from energy efficiency to new nuclear; from carbon capture and storage to renewable heat. Countries should be free to pick the mix they prefer. In the UK, our electricity market reforms will rely on the market and competition to determine the low-carbon electricity mix. So we are legislating to set a technology-neutral decarbonisation target for our power sector. We will therefore oppose a renewable energy target at an EU level as inflexible and unnecessary.
Above all, we must keep our eyes on the prize: a binding global deal to reduce carbon emissions and limit climate change to manageable levels. That is why an ambitious emissions target for the EU is so important. Be in no doubt, without the EU adopting an ambitious approach, a global deal will be virtually impossible. So the UK must now lead in Europe on ambitious climate change targets and championing green growth at the same time. Then we will be meeting our responsibilities to pass on to our children an economy that is prosperous and a planet that can sustain them.