EU Needs One Tool to Fight Economic, Climate Crisis: Hedegaard

European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard oversees the world’s biggest emissions-trading system and the 27-nations bloc’s strategy to fight global warming.

Since taking up her post in 2010 she has been urging member states for more efforts to contain the rise of temperatures, which scientists say may cause more heat waves, flooding and intense storms. Before heading to the United Nations’ climate talks in Qatar’s capital city, she spoke with Ewa Krukowska, the EU climate and energy reporter for Bloomberg News.

Q: International organizations are warning governments that their emission-reduction pledges so far are not enough to prevent cataclysmic changes caused by global warming. What is the EU planning to do to encourage more ambitions in Doha?

A: “We’re pushing the Qatari presidency very hard to organize a ministerial roundtable on how to add onto ambitions in the short term. We can include new gases. If we address hydrofluorocarbons, there’s a huge potential. We could phase out fossil fuel subsidies. There’s a number of things that could be done before 2015.”

Q: The economic crisis seems to be pushing the fight with climate change down the list of EU priorities. Is the EU’s resolve weakening?

A: “No. Everything is of course very difficult, but if you take all the proposals in the European Parliament -- on emissions from cars, on indirect land use change, on fluorinated greenhouse gases, on emission-permit backloading, on the carbon market report, on energy taxation, on climate mainstreaming in the budget -- which are now up to member states to deliver, it shows that it’s challenging times we’re living in, but we also know what to do.”

Q: The EU has so far been unable to reach a consensus on the need to adopt more stringent climate goals. Is it able to move forward?

A: “If you look at specific proposals that are out there then we’re actually moving things forward. When you need unanimity then if only one country blocks things then we have a challenge in the European Union. Nonetheless, I think we managed to move forward. We will soon also come up with the European growth survey, and there it’s my expectation that it’ll be very clear that we realized there are three crises we have to solve at the same time.”

Q: Scientists say the EU’s goal to cut emissions by 20 percent in 2020 compared with 1990s is not enough to contain the rise of temperature. Will Europe step up efforts in the coming years?

A: “We have already stepped up ambitions with the energy efficiency directive. The reality is that if member states implement this decision then Europe will move up in 2020 beyond 20 percent. That is a reality. We’re providing a number of tools that, if implemented in member states, will move us up.”

Q: Is it possible to reconcile economic growth and climate objectives?

A: “The big thing that people globally need to understand is that we don’t only have an economic crisis. We also have a social and job crisis, and we still have a climate and environment crisis. Through climate policies, we can also help create some jobs we need so badly. And in the longer term we can bring down the cost for energy and energy independence. Nothing is easy because of the crisis. We must have a bit more holistic approach. We have to find tools that can combat different crises at the same time. There are no excuses left. People must understand that five or 10 years ago, when we talked about climate change as some distant threat, it’s actually coming closer and closer. And the costs, not only human costs but also economic costs, are growing.”

Q: Do you expect climate envoys in Doha to offer stricter emission-reduction pledges?

A: “We still have a lot of emissions globally coming from countries that have pledged absolutely nothing so far. They have not even submitted a paper saying they’ll pledge. One of these countries is Qatar, the incoming host. We have countries that have strong economies but so far pledged nothing, so there’s also a hidden potential to add on to global ambitions.”

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