Why it's time for a European climate law

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Climate laws are being adopted around the world. MOLLY SCOTT CATO and JAKOB DALUNDE, MEPs for the UK and Sweden, consider whether legally binding commitments can save us from a climate crisis and pave the way towards a net zero emissions planet

The world’s climate will not be saved by lofty promises and moving speeches. It requires solid legislation to ensure countries keep the promises they made in the Paris agreement.

The UK’s energy and climate minister, Claire Perry, told the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last week that she would instruct the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to investigate how the UK could achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Meanwhile EU energy negotiations are set to take steps towards a European Climate Law.

However, the world’s climate will not be saved by lofty promises and moving speeches. It requires solid legislation to ensure countries keep the promises they made in the Paris agreement.

Beacon to the world

The EU's current rules on climate action are comprehensive, but lack many of the necessary features of effective climate laws.

With the Trump administration ditching the Paris agreement altogether, Europe can and must become a beacon to the world on decisive action on climate change.

Several European countries, regions and cities have already introduced effective climate laws. The UK’s Climate Change Act was ground-breaking in this respect while Sweden recently passed legislation widely considered to be the most ambitious in the world - pledging that the country would become carbon neutral by 2045.

But legislation is also being passed at a regional level, in Catalonia - and even in Trump’s America, most notably California, where legislation imposes a state wide cap on CO2 emissions.

Net zero emissions

Indeed, there has been a 20-fold increase in the number of global climate change laws since 1997 and the number of climate laws continues to grow rapidly.

Given the level of progress at national and regional level, now is the right time for a comprehensive European approach and the most efficient method at our disposal is to introduce a European Climate Law.

In a landmark decision in January, the European Parliament adopted ambitious climate objectives together with planning and reporting mechanisms that could become a historic leap towards such law.

Together with ambitious renewables and energy efficiency objectives, these form the commission’s proposed regulation on the governance of the Energy Union. This aims to transpose the Paris agreement into EU law.

Clear political signal

So the ball is now firmly in the court of EU member states through the council and they must now show clear leadership and be on the right side of history.

One of the most important components of the European Parliament's position is to develop long-term strategies at national and EU level to reach net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest and move into negative emissions soon afterwards.

Fixing a long-term goal sends a clear political signal to consumers, producers, investors and innovators on the direction in which we are heading. Some emission trajectories predict over 4 °C average rise in global temperatures.

The world’s climate will not be saved by lofty promises and moving speeches. It requires solid legislation to ensure countries keep the promises they made in the Paris agreement.

This underlines the urgency of agreeing long term strategies and swift action. It appears the UK is now ready to join France, Sweden, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in welcoming a net zero emission target for 2050, but other countries need to follow suit.

Carbon budget

The parliament’s vote on the governance regulation also introduces for the first time in EU legislation the concept of a carbon budget, that specifies the amount of carbon dioxide we can emit to ensure we limit global temperature rise to 1.5 - 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

It is crucial that the commission reports on the remaining fair share for the EU and ensures that long-term strategies are consistent with the EU carbon budget.

The measures proposed by the European Parliament would significantly improve European climate legislation but can only be a first step towards a climate law for Europe that would address the whole economy including significant sectors such as transport and agriculture.

A true European climate law will send a clear message to the world that Europe is serious about reaching the goals of the Paris agreement.

More resilient economy

It would encourage higher performance from member states on climate change and set an ambitious direction for the EU as a whole.

Such a law would also need to close some of the gaps between the EU's nationally determined contribution and what scientists say is needed to fulfil the commitments made in the Paris agreement.

In addition to the political vision, we need quantified carbon budgets for specific time periods, legally binding emission targets, and significantly strengthened review systems to ensure effective implementation.

Examples from around the world show that climate laws often lead to more green jobs and a more resilient economy. There is no reason why Europe should be any different.

Short window of opportunity

The world has a short window of opportunity to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. The UK and other EU member states are talking the talk on tackling climate change.

They must now show courage and breathe new life into the Paris agreement. The world has been abandoned by the Trump administration. It is now up to Europe to show leadership and act to prevent a climate crisis.

These Authors

Molly Scott Cato is a Green MEP for the South West of England. Jakob Dalunde is a Green MEP from Sweden.

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