Despite the decision by the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, other countries are stepping up their efforts to combat climate change – as are businesses, including US corporations.
“The change in the US administration came as a shock, and we realised there had to be a reaction,” said Yvon Slingenberg, Director for Climate Negotiations and Mainstreaming at the European Commission Directorate-General for Climate Action. “Do we need to change our approach on implementation? The answer is definitely ‘yes’. But the difference after Paris is that it is not just the governments. It is other parts of civil society that also have become active.”
She was speaking at our Climate and Energy Summit in Brussels on 17 October. The event was held shortly after EU summits with both China and India, where the parties reaffirmed their commitments to fight global warming. China, which accounts for about 30% of global emissions, is pledging to invest $360bn in renewables over the next three years. What’s more, business is now more enthusiastic, as enterprises increasingly see the growth potential from green technology.
Encouragement came, in particular, from the 2015 adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to ensure prosperity for all by 2030 through sustainable, resilient growth. “There has been huge shift. More companies – big corporations and international companies – are embracing the SDGs,” said Richard Northcote, Chief Sustainability Officer at Covestro. “The SDGs have been a big factor in getting the private sector involved.”
However, despite the growth of renewables and Europe’s efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the electricity sector, coal – the most carbon-intensive fuel – still accounts for nearly 80% of the EU power sector’s emissions. Luca Cosentino stressed that a clear policy signal is needed to support the phasing out of coal and the integration of renewables in a flexible electricity market. This is what the “Make Power Clean” campaign, pursued by a number of renewables, natural gas and manufacturing players is all about. This alliance supports the introduction of a carbon criterion (550 gr CO2/KWh) for capacity remuneration mechanisms in the ongoing revision of the market design rules, indicating a way to make sure that public funding does not end up subsidising the most polluting forms of power generation.
Part of the solution is using less energy. “Digital tools can provide a lot of solutions for the problems that we have,” said Kaja Kallas, Member of the European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and European Young Leader (EYL40). “At the heart of all this are smart grids and meters. But Estonia is the only country in the world with 100% smart meters. In some European countries consumers get their bill once a year – so how can you make any decisions to save energy when you don’t know how much you are using?”
The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), launched in 2005, was an innovative idea to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But its effect has been limited by an oversupply of emissions allowances, highlighting the difficulty in predicting future emissions in order to set allowances in such schemes.
Still, China is launching its own version of the scheme inspired by the EU one, and experts say such schemes have an important role to play in future, more than 40 initiatives are on the way.
Marcel Beukeboom, the Dutch Special Envoy for Climate Change; Rachel Solomon Williams, Managing Director at Sandbag; Anne Chassagnette from the ENGIE group as well as Claude Nahon from the EDF Group were also speaking at the event.
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