Global warming - an urgent threat


2014 was the hottest year since records began in 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists. In fact, with the exception of 1998 ten of the warmest years ever recorded have taken place since 2000.

And while the planet warms, extreme weather events like droughts, floods and hurricanes become more common. In other words, climate change is already here.

To avoid the worst impacts we need to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2 or even 1.5 degrees Celsius. Catastrophic climate change can only be avoided if nations rapidly cut their greenhouse gas emissions, while moving to an efficient energy system based fully on renewable energy by 2050.

The European Union remains one of the world’s most carbon polluting regions, second only to China and the United States.

To play its part in international efforts to tackle climate change and clean up its energy system, the EU should move forward in the four following policy areas:

Cutting carbon

The EU has the ambition to lead the global fight against climate change. Yet the target adopted by EU leaders in October 2014 to cut domestic carbon emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 (based on 1990 levels) lacks ambition and does not represent the EU’s fair share of greenhouse gas reductions.

Research by institute Ecofys shows that the EU’s contribution to emission cuts in 2030 should be around 49 percent. In fact, this figure excludes another seven percentage points of emissions caused by the surplus of carbon allowances in the EU’s emissions trading system (EU ETS). An EU 2030 target of at least 55 percent domestic emission cuts is therefore much closer to Europe’s fair share of the global effort.

Renewable energy

Europe's energy policy is at a crossroads. Its grid infrastructure and many power plants are ageing and major investment decisions are being taken. The EU and its member states should seize this transition to invest in renewable power and energy saving technology, and to upgrade their outdated electricity grids. Europe’s energy system can and should run fully on renewable energy by 2050.

In fact, an increasing number of European businesses, organisations, politicians, cities and regions subscribe to the vision of a 100 percent renewable energy supply by 2050. Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution study demonstrates how Europe can achieve the necessary transition. Its realisation relies on political decisions at European and member state level.

However, the 2030 energy targets, which were agreed by EU leaders in October 2014 alongside the carbon target, represent a slowdown on current rates of development. The target for a minimum 27 percent share of renewables across Europe ignores the potential for renewables to supply almost half of Europe’s energy by 2030. The minimum 27 percent target for energy efficiency also falls short of the potential to cut Europe’s energy use by 40 percent in 2030, as set out in a report by the Frauenhofer institute.

Phasing out coal

Coal is one of the most carbon-intensive and polluting fuels on the planet. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of sulphur dioxide and mercury emissions and one of the largest industrial sources of nitrogen oxides, arsenic, lead and cadmium pollution in Europe. Research by Stuttgart University, commissioned by Greenpeace, estimates that the collective impact of air pollution from coal-fired power plants in the EU was responsible for 22,300 premature deaths in 2010.

A Greenpeace investigation has shown that new EU industrial air pollution performance standards considered under the Industrial Emissions Directive are much weaker than standards in force in China, Japan and the United States. Furthermore, existing coal power plants both within and outside the EU already have much lower emissions than the standards the EU is considering.

In addition to setting strict air pollution standards, the EU should establish a power plant performance standard regulating the efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity produced for both new and existing power plants.

Protection of the Artic

The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average, likely the fastest change in human history. More than three quarters of Arctic summer sea ice volume has melted since 1979. It directly affects the four million people living in the region and touches the lives of billions more by accelerating the warming of our planet.

Greenpeace urges the EU to support the creation of an Arctic sanctuary in the international waters around the North Pole, which will be off-limits to all extractive and destructive uses, such as industrial fishing or drilling for oil, and to back the US initiative to hold off commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean high seas.

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