BRUSSELS – In 2008, the European Union adopted its 2020 climate and energy package, committing itself to a 20% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions from 1990 levels, an increase in the share of energy generated from renewable resources to 20%, and a 20% improvement in energy efficiency over the next 12 years. But, as the subsequent economic crisis shifted policymakers’ attention from long-term sustainability to short-term recovery, progress stalled – and the consequences could be dramatic.
Of course, this is not the case only in Europe. Economic pressure – together with new access to vast stores of cheap fossil fuels in countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia – has made a global emissions-reduction agreement less likely today than it was six years ago.
But Europe has long been a global leader in sustainability initiatives, including renewable-energy development and deployment. A waning European commitment to these goals could undercut efforts to mitigate climate change. Already, the chances of limiting global warming to 2º Celsius above pre-industrial levels – the threshold beyond which the risk of devastating effects is no longer negligible – are slim, at best.
It has been suggested that Europe’s leaders should abandon their renewable-energy ambitions in favor of gradual decarbonization, in the hope that the rest of the world will eventually follow suit. But this would be inadequate to mitigate global warming – not least because European carbon emissions will fall to less then 10% in the next decade, making them negligible on a global scale.