Commentary

Where is the climate risk debate in Brussels?

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The EU 2030 climate and energy discussions show just how much climate risk is disconnected from the mitigation debate. On Friday, European leaders discussed the 2030 package at the EU Council and decided to delay the decision making until October. While the crisis in Ukraine reminded leaders about the risks of energy dependence and the importance of European energy solidarity, a longer term assessment of the climate risks was still missing. This follows the debate since the publication of the Commission’s 2030 proposal in January which has been dominated by exaggerated fears about competitiveness.

Globally, the EU was driver behind the international agreement for limiting climate change to below a 2°C average global temperature rise. It has been a progressive voice on the importance of staying below 2 degrees, but the real meaning of this has not been embedded in EU domestic politics or institutions. It has not internalised the actual social, economic and budgetary implications of a 2, 4 or 6°C warmer world. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment report shows it would have profound implications for global supply shocks, food security, health and economic growth.

So far, climate mitigation has mainly been understood as an economic cost rather than a cost-effective investment for Europe’s future. Part of the problem is that responsibility for managing climate risk is fragmented among different EU institutions, Member State ministries and local authorities. There has not been a high level political discussion about understanding and systemically managing climate risks. Without this conversation, it will be difficult to really change EU climate politics and go for a higher level of GHG reduction. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment report on climate impacts this week offers an opportunity to truly start the Brussels debate.

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