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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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You are here : Home > News > Speeches > April 2005 > Speech by Lucien Lux at a conference on “Climate Change Policy: The View from Europe” at the Brookings Institution - 18 April 2005
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Speech by Lucien Lux at a conference on “Climate Change Policy: The View from Europe” at the Brookings Institution - 18 April 2005

Date of Speech : 18-04-2005

Place : Washington (USA)

Speaker : Lucien Lux

Policy area : Environment Environment

Dear Mr. Vice-President,

I am very delighted to be here at the Brookings Institution alongside some very eminent speakers and a very eminent audience of US institutions, industry, think tanks and NGO’s.

Climate Change is one of the top priorities of the Luxembourgish Presidency of the European Union. In that context we came to the view that we had to try to communicate better and more about the issues, the challenges and the problems of climate change, and to exchange views with our partners on our respective positions.

Therefore, I want to begin today by saying something about the science of climate change and what it means for us. I assume that there are different degrees of familiarity, so I apologize to those who are more than familiar with it.

We all know that the world is warming and that greenhouse gas levels are rising. I don’t think that anyone in this audience will dispute that climate change is by far the biggest challenge for sustainable development in the 21st century. I am also aware that there are diverging views of how we shall tackle the problem. But combatting climate change is not an option, it is a necessity! The costs of inaction are high. Taking decisive action on climate change will not just help to create a more secure world, but one with greater opportunities for investment in an emerging global low carbon economy, and will enhance rather than damage competitiveness.

Climate change is happening faster than expected. Models alert us to the scale of future climate change and point to the need for greenhouse gas emissions to be strongly curbed. The alarming report from the International Arctic Science Committee shows the dramatic change that have already occurred in this region. Just one example: in the last 20 years, the ice cover in the Arctic has diminished by 15 to 20%.

Even in Europe and in the United States the increase of extreme weather events creates high damages to our economies and costs human lives. Scientists warn us that events that once were exceptional- occurring once in a century – will be normal in a few decades, if climate change is not contained. Developing countries will face higher damages than industrialized countries, as they are more vulnerable to climate change.

Briefly: Climate change is happening. It causes enormous costs worldwide.

The 10 warmest years on record have all been after 1990. Over the last century, global mean temperatures have already risen by 0,6 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels: this is the most drastic temperature rise for over 1000 years in the northern hemisphere.. In Europe, temperature has even grown by more than 0,9 degrees Celsius. Extreme weather events like floods, storms and droughts, are becoming more frequent and intense, having negative impacts on water resources, biodiversity and food production. Glaciers are melting, sea ice and snow cover is declining. Sea levels are rising and are forecast to rise another 88 cm by 2100, threatening millions of people globally who currently live below this level.

According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperatures are predicted to rise by between 1,4 and 5,8 degrees Celsius over this century.

We have to avoid these risks at any price. And we can afford avoiding these risks. Certainly, the fighting climate change has costs. But we have to bear in mind that according to scientists, and even to insurance companies, the costs of climate protection is ten times lower than the costs of damages  to be expected if no action is taken.

The German Institute for Economic Research has estimated the damages to the economy of a global warming of only 1 degrees Celsius up to yearly 2000 billion US Dollars by 2050. These astronomically high figures let appear the frequently advanced costs for the protection of our climate in another light.

We are already paying for the damages today, and we will have to adapt to the changing climate. As it seems, the last hurricane season in Florida caused damages as high as 25 billion USD. That’s half of industrialized countries transfers for developing countries. In many regions of the world, it is now impossible to insure housings against such threats.

Compared to potential costs of damage due to climate change, the costs of long-term global action to tackle climate change are likely to be short-term and relatively modest. But these costs will depend on clear long term signals from governments.

So what can we do? The EU, like the US, is already taking action. And with the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol we have got, for the first time, a legally binding international instrument, with greenhouse gas emissions reduction and limitation targets for industrialized countries. The Member States of the European Union and the Commission are working hard to meet their Kyoto commitments to reduce emissions by 8%. By the end of last year, the Commission published its report "Catching up with the Community’s Kyoto target" which shows that the EU-25 greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 9% from the base year level in 2002, whereas emissions from the EU-15 (EU bubble in the context of the Kyoto protocol) were down by 2,9%. The EU projects being able to reach its targets through the effective implementation of existing and new, already planned, policies and measures, and by using the Protocol’s mechanisms.

New initiatives, like the EU Emissions trading Scheme (ETS) that started this year will bring further reductions. The EU ETS is a cornerstone of EU strategy for tackling climate change. It is the world’s most ambitious programme for environmental management and will create pollution control assets potentially worth tens of billions of Euros.

The Emission Trading Scheme applies now to about 12 000 installations in Europe and covers more than 45% of our CO2 emissions. It contains review clauses that foreshadow considering more sectors and gases over time.

But meeting our Kyoto commitments is not enough. We know that the Kyoto Protocol can only be a first step. Many more have to follow. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) overall objective is to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at levels which avoid dangerous anthropogenic climate change. Well, in Buenos Aires in December, we took a first small step to looking at what to do after Kyoto. We decided to hold a seminar to exchange informations on existing policies and measures as well as future actions.

The next years will be decisive. Therefore showing that we bring our emissions down within the European Union and the United States now is a condition for our international credibility and continued leadership on climate change. Without this leadership we will not be able to convince the developing countries to take on additional commitments in the longer term. And we know very well that we can only win the battle against climate change if we act together – at a global level.

Our approach in the EU is appreciated by many – for instance the International Climate Change Task Force: a global mean temperature increase of more then 2° Celsius must be avoided. The EU Environment ministers and the European Council in March concluded that recent scientific research and work under the IPCC indicate that keeping this long-term temperature objective within reach will require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak within two decades, followed by substantial reductions in the order of 15% to perhaps 50% by 2050 compared to 1990.

This objective should guide global efforts to reduce climate change risks in accordance with the precautionary principle. This objective is global in nature as it can only be achieved on the basis of global action, not by the EU alone. In view of global emission reductions required, global joint efforts are needed in the coming decades, including significantly enhanced aggregated reduction efforts by all economically more advanced countries. The EU looks forward to exploring with other countries possible strategies for achieving necessary emission reductions. In this context, we believe that reduction pathways by the group of developed countries in the order of 15-30% by 2020 should be considered. At the recent European Spring Council, Heads of government backed these figures, as well as the spirit of the long-term reductions figures.

We are interested to start promptly the consideration of the post 2012 framework in the context of the UN climate change process and to engage with all Parties to the Convention in a common and open dialogue on further action. We should explore new approaches for differentiation between Parties in a fair and flexible framework, offering opportunities for broadening and deepening Parties’ contributions to the mitigation of climate change, in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

Let me conclude by recalling the 3 key messages I would like to insist on as a President of the Environment Council :

1. Everybody agrees that climate change is a very serious problem that requires an urgent and global response.

2. Diverging views among Parties obviously still exist when it comes to deciding on how to act and when to act. Guided by increasing scientific evidence, the EU endorsed a maximum global temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius as an overall long term objective. Science furthermore indicates that such an overall objective can only be reached if global greenhouse gas emissions peak within 2 decades, followed by substantial reductions.

Many technological options for reducing emissions at reasonable cost already exist, for some others more work needs to be done to ensure that they become competitive market options. We have to ensure that the right investment choices are being made today in order to assure the transition to a low carbon future tomorrow.

3. Finally, our common challenge in the near future will consist in agreeing on those global joint efforts that are needed, according to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. COP 11 later this year should be used for an open and constructive dialogue. The European Union is ready to take up it’s responsibilities.

This page was last modified on : 21-04-2005

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