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A new start for European foreign policy

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The signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement is an important opportunity for Europe to make the successful lessons from Paris into pillars of its diplomatic strategy. In June 2016, European Heads of State and Government will discuss a new “Global Strategy” on security and foreign policy. Delivering the Paris Agreement must be placed directly at its core if Europe wants to stay safe and prosperous.  

The Global Strategy will be the first major strategic refresh since the European Security Strategy in 2003. Since then the world has radically changed. As Europe toils to reboot growth after the worst financial and economic crisis since World War II, its security and freedoms have come openly under threat. A wave of instability is sweeping through Europe’s neighbourhood with deep repercussions extending to the streets of Paris and Brussels. In 2015 over 1 million people reached Europe through the Mediterranean while at least 3,500 lost their lives.

The wave of migration towards Europe is not halting. In the first months of 2016, 80% more people landed on the shores of Italy compared to 2015. How this instability will evolve is difficult to predict but as the climate warms more pressure will be put on the already fragile economies surrounding Europe. In Syria, for example, climate change has already acted as a threat-multiplier through the record-long drought that hit the Levant region between 2006 and 2010. This drove 1.5 million people from the country's breadbasket areas to the urban peripheries where the first protests began in March 2011. If serious efforts are not undertaken to slow down the rate of warming, the risk of similar 1-in-100 year food production shocks is likely to increase to 1-in-30 and more by 2040, and 1-in-15 years after 2050.

To stay secure, Europe needs therefore to effectively manage climate risk. The emission reductions pledged by countries at the Paris conference in December 2015, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, put us on track for a world that is 2.7-3.7°C warmer (median probability) than pre-industrial levels. With above 3°C of warming the probability of breaching “tipping points” – thresholds beyond which global warming could accelerate out of control causing ecosystems and economies to collapse – rises sharply. The EU Global Strategy needs to put a climate risk management framework at the heart of its strategy. The aim should be to stay well below 2˚C and pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5˚C in line with the long term goal of the Paris Agreement; actions should be oriented towards building and budgeting for 3-4°C; and EU countries should agree on contingency plan for 5-7˚C in case of worst-case scenarios.

Implementing the Paris Agreement will require a strong climate diplomacy strategy and a review of EU domestic actions. Climate change must be made a core diplomatic priority in order to drive climate mainstreaming into major multilateral processes, such as the G7, the G20 and the International Financial Institutions.

Domestic EU action is key to send a clear signal that the EU takes the Paris Agreement seriously and to demonstrate that the transformation to a low carbon economy is both technologically possible and economically desirable. The EU should review and consider bringing forward its long term emission reduction target of 80-95% by 2050 as well as the least cost emissions reduction pathway in 2017, in time for the first review of mitigation efforts in 2018. The “at least 40%” reduction target by 2030 needs to be reassessed against this review.

Finally, Europe needs a new approach to integrate with its neighbours to stay secure. Sustainable investment in Europe’s neighbourhood is an investment in jobs, growth and stability. Integrating Member States into the European low carbon market will enable them to tap into growing consumers markets to develop and trade low cost, low carbon energy. For example, electricity demand in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is expected to increase at 6% per year by 2030. Concentrated Solar Power could generate 100 times the combined electricity consumption of MENA and Europe together and create thousands of local jobs for large swaths of unemployed populations. Almost one in two of the 17.5 million people age 15-24 is currently unemployed in Egypt. Technological innovation and market opportunities mean that today the lowest wind and PV prices globally are in the MENA countries. Contract prices for onshore wind projects in Egypt and for solar projects in Jordan are as low as half those for projects in Germany.

In the face of the newly agreed Paris Agreement, increasing temperatures, rising geopolitical tensions at the borders of Europe and new economic opportunities, a new start for European foreign policy is needed. Through the integration of a climate risk management framework, strong climate diplomacy, ambitious domestic actions, and a sustainable investment strategy Europe will be better prepared to protect it's citizens and businesses from future risks. This will avoid the worst impacts of climate change and buffer against rising instability in the neighbourhood, while providing it with better prospects for a more peaceful future.