Page last updated at 17:20 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

EU 'should cut emissions by 30%'

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

Chimney (AFP)
The EU could decide to increase its proposed 20% cut

Europe should impose a unilateral cut in greenhouse gas emissions of 30% by 2020, according to climate economist Sir Nicholas Stern.

Under the EU's agreement about how to divide up the cuts that would spell a UK reduction of 42% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.

Lord Stern described this as "challenging but possible".

He said it would put the UK at the forefront of a low-carbon "industrial revolution".

The EU has promised to increase its proposed 20% cut to 30% if there is a strong agreement at next week's climate conference in Copenhagen - described by Lord Stern as the most important international gathering since World War II.

If we fail to act strongly, we risk changing the climate and physical geography of the world in ways that would be irreversible
Lord Stern

He said that China and the US had already made concrete offers for the meeting, so the EU should increase the pressure with an ambitious target.

He said that would mean investing between 1% and 2% of national wealth into creating a low-carbon economy, and suggested that the UK government should put extra taxes on high-emitting sectors like aviation and shipping to raise more cash to fund the low-carbon revolution.

But the latest analysis from his team suggests that even the strongest agreement likely at Copenhagen would give the world only a "50-50 chance" of avoiding a level of emissions that the majority of scientists believe could cause catastrophic and irreversible effects.

Falling short

Lord Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, explained that to avoid emissions levels associated with a 2C rise, greenhouse gases needed to drop from 47 billion tonnes in 2010 to about 44 billion tonnes in 2020.

They would then need to plunge to much less than 20 billion tonnes in 2050. He said pledges from nations so far fell short of the 2020 target by about two billion tonnes.


He said that finance to help poor nations adapt to climate change and obtain clean technology would be key at Copenhagen.

"The rich countries should find $50bn per year, or about 0.1% of their gross domestic product, by 2015 to help the developing countries, over and above existing commitments on development aid."

He explained that the UK should contribute $3bn a year to a climate fund by 2015 - and he called on the chancellor to make that commitment in his pre-budget report next week.

He suggested it would be wiser to raise the money through new taxes on pollution, aviation and shipping.

The UK government said later that it would support the EU's 30% target. We are awaiting a reaction from the European Commission.

Under the EU's agreement, nations could look to carbon offsetting - buying carbon credits from poor countries - if the target stretched beyond 20%.

'Risk management'

Lord Stern was asked at a media launch if dramatic cuts could be maintained while the public was becoming more sceptical about climate science due to issues such as the leaked climate e-mail affair at the University of East Anglia.

He answered that climate science had been growing over 200 years and was now overwhelming.

When asked by BBC News if the science was settled he replied: "No, this is about risk management - about dealing with risks. We can see how big some of these risks might be.

"And if we fail to act strongly, we risk changing the climate and physical geography of the world in ways that would be irreversible.

"On the other hand, if we press ahead with a low-carbon revolution that would bring us an economic dividend as big as the ones created by the advent of electricity or the railways. For policymakers the choice is simple."

A spokesperson for the European Commission said: "The EU offer of going to 30% remains on the table. The decision will have to be taken in Copenhagen in the light of other commitments. This is a decision to be taken at the highest political level."

She said she had "no idea" of how the decision would be made but pointed out that there would be an EU summit just before the Copenhagen finale.

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