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Forget Trump: Europe plans to push for more ambition on climate

The European Union seeks to take a long-term view and encourage firms to front-load actions to cap future costs

The European Commission is considering options ranging from lowering greenhouse-gas discharges by 80 per cent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels to net-zero emissions by mid-century.


TRUMP or no Trump, the European Union (EU) is set to spur businesses to do more to meet the Paris climate accord goals.

Taking a long view and encouraging companies to front-load actions to cap future costs will be among the thrusts of the climate push for the bloc's executive suites.

In its longer-term strategy to be presented in November to achieve targets set under the Paris accord, the European Commission is considering options ranging from lowering greenhouse-gas discharges by 80 per cent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels to net-zero emissions by mid-century.

"Having a 2050 perspective helps people accept more ambitious paths," Mauro Petriccione, the director general for climate at the EU's regulatory arm, said in an interview in Brussels. "That also means that people should start thinking now that at some point they will have to go beyond the 2030 target. You give them a signal now, you help them plan for the long term."

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The steps are aimed at showing how determined the 28-nation bloc is to honour the accord's targets even in the face of President Donald Trump's decision to take the United States out of the 2015 agreement signed by almost all other countries in the world.

The EU currently has a binding target of cutting emissions by at least 40 per cent by the end of the next decade. That's not enough to meet the Paris objective of keeping global temperature growth well below 2 degrees Celsius, a move scientists say is needed to prevent catastrophic effects of global warming.

While the new European strategy won't propose changing the bloc's 2030 goal, it will set milestones for the following decades that could be turned into binding targets later on.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the EU will host a high-level conference in Brussels to consult companies, non-governmental organisations and researchers on the upcoming road map.

"It is now time to look at the longer-term perspective and to set out a strategy for where EU climate policy is heading by 2050," Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said in a statement on Thursday. "The clean energy transition will be key, and achieving our climate objectives will require contributions from every part of the economy and society."

For the EU, which wants to lead by example, the long-term strategy will also be a political tool to demand more at the next United Nations talks that start in December in Katowice, Poland. Envoys from more than 190 countries will aim to iron out a rule-book to implement the Paris deal and its mechanisms to step up carbon reductions worldwide.

"We have a reasonable chance of persuading the other large emitters in the developed and emerging world to follow us," Mr Petriccione said. "The only way to persuade them is to be successful. The only example people want to follow is success."

Europe cut its greenhouse-gas discharges by 23 per cent by 2016 compared with 1990 levels, and is on track to beat its 2020 target of lowering them by a fifth. The price on carbon in its flagship cap-and-trade programme, which puts emissions limits on almost 12,000 facilities owned by manufacturers and power producers, more than doubled over the past two years to around 16 euros (S$26) per metric tonne after an overhaul that alleviated a glut of permits.

As part of a push for more ambition at the UN climate talks in December, the EU may toughen its contribution to the Paris Agreement and submit a stricter goal of "slightly over 45 per cent" by 2030.

Deeper reductions will be possible after policy makers agreed to pursue stricter energy efficiency and renewables goals for 2030, Mr Canete said last month.

To ensure its fight against climate change and shift to sustainable economy are effective, Europe must embrace a new approach to energy, going beyond incorporating renewables into the grid, according to Mr Petriccione. As part of the transformation, the EU should also embrace new clean sources of energy, such as hydrogen, he pointed out. "It's perfectly conceivable to diversify our sources of energy not only to replace fossil fuels but also according to what you actually want to do with the energy," he noted. "A power plant that feeds the electric grid of a large city is a monster. A power plant that feeds a steel plant is a monster. You don't need to get energy from a monster to feed your house. This gives you a lot more options." BLOOMBERG

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