Europe Aims for Higher Carbon Cuts

Could Europe achieve emissions reductions of 30% of 1990 levels by 2020? Early data suggests ‘yes.’
Leaders of the European Union (EU) agreed in 2007 to commit their countries to a carbon emissions plan that would reduce emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by the year 2020. It was a bold move, and one that has set the EU on a serious track of energy efficiency and renewable technology. Now some are suggesting an even more ambitious goal of 30% reduction by 2020 is possible based on early carbon-cutting data.

In 2010, statistics showed that Europe’s emissions had fallen 8%, just three years after the rigorous plan was put in place. Some have taken this as a sign that even further reductions could be achieved by the same deadline. Connie Hedegaard, the EU commissioner for climate change, is one of a growing number of politicians who believe that tougher restrictions on carbon emissions could actually boost Europe’s economy. According to Hedegaard, “It’s very important that everyone understands that to produce more does not mean you have to emit more. That was 20th century business, this is the 21st-century model.”

But the debate over raising the goal by 10% doesn’t stem from doubts that it can be done; research shows that the 30% reduction goal would be just as “achievable” as the 20% goal. The debate is over whether or not it would actually cut emissions.

“Economic impact aside, [it] would create carbon leakage,” said Hubert Mandery, director-general of the European Chemical Industry Council. “Europe’s carbon footprint will actually grow, because carbon emissions would come through the back door as imports from high-emission countries. Without a globally binding emissions reduction treaty, expect this to happen. In fact, it has already started.”

Companies that have already adapted to the 20% goal would have to refit their facilities with newer equipment before it is cost effective to do so, and with competition from overseas industries that do not have the same emissions restrictions, Europe’s economy could suffer from a 30% reduction goal. Employment could also be negatively impacted.

The economy is still a ruling factor in any nation’s attempt to combat its contribution to global warming. But the EU has taken a determined first step that is working better than expected and could serve as a real model worldwide for how emissions reductions can be quickly achieved.