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Apathy rules as EU rehashes climate change commitments

As EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso addressed the UN Climate Summit, it was difficult not to feel a sense of déjà vu, writes Natalia Alonso.

While claiming that the EU was ‘leading by example’ in the fight to cut carbon emissions, President Barosso merely reiterated previous pledges around devoting funding to climate action – conveniently avoiding the failure of the European Commission to pledge to the Green Climate Fund, designed to channel climate aid to poor nations. In spite of the call to action sounded across New York and the world by the People’s Climate March, apathy rather than ambition was the order of the day.

European governments themselves failed to sufficiently redress this, with concrete pledges to the Green Climate Fund only coming from France, Denmark, Luxemburg and Czech Republic (Germany and Sweden confirmed their previously made pledges). France did contribute $1 billion, but this alone still leaves the amount pledged to developing countries to adapt to climate impacts and curb carbon emissions extremely low. The ball may have started rolling, but it isn’t rolling very fast.

Global leaders from outside the EU also failed to take decisive action and back their words up with pledges. While commitments were made here and there, many lacked vital details and, like the EU’s, were merely recycled. Indeed, the pledges announced still leave the total Green Climate Funding with less than a sixth of what developed countries should commit. With this in mind, no leader should have left New York believing the job was done.

And nor can they afford to. In our new report The Summit that Snoozed?, research by Oxfam suggests that since the last UN Summit in Copenhagen five years ago, extreme weather events have directly affected over 650 million people, claimed 112,000 lives and cost €380 billion. If this is allowed to happen again, the numbers could be even more devastating.

Given what is at stake, the lack of ambition that has infected world leaders and the EU is breath-taking. The financial and environmental pledges made in Copenhagen on emissions cuts were grossly insufficient at avoiding global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, and the European position has not improved since.

Such an uninspiring attitude not only fails to motivate other nations to follow suit, but allows climate change to accelerate towards a 4 degrees Celsius increase in the next 86 years and the climate chaos that would entail.

Despite Barroso’s hollow words, the opportunity still remains for Europe to reposition itself as a true global climate champion, as it will be the first major bloc to take a stance. The EU 2030 climate and energy package expected to be agreed by EU leaders next month must set an example and meet the level of ambition required to help strike a global climate deal in Paris next year. Europe must commit to curbing emissions by 55%, increasing the share of sustainable renewables in the energy mix up to 45% and reducing energy use by at least 40% to return to the pinnacle of climate action.

The EU must also help ensure that the Green Climate Fund meets its target of $100 billion per year by 2020, first and foremost by guaranteeing $15 billion is put out on the table for the first three years of operations. So far a mere $2.3 billion has been pledged – with France, Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Luxemburg and Sweden the only EU contributors.

If proceedings inside the UN Climate Change Summit were particularly uninspiring, the call of thousands of voices demanding action on the streets of New York and across the world has shown the need to act is not lost on those outside policymaking circles. This Summit has not on its own done enough to protect our communities and our children’s future, but if leaders leave New York with the voices of the thousands who marched here ringing in their ears, it may yet prove a turning point.

Natalia Alonso is Oxfam’s Deputy Director of Advocacy and Campaigns


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