In Parliament >> Timing is everything

11th February 2013

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Chris Davies, Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson in the European parliament, sees problems ahead for emissions trading in Europe

Early 2008 was a good moment for the European Commission to propose legislative initiatives to combat climate change.

The 2007 warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were fresh in the ears of policymakers and the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference was on the horizon.

By comparison, early 2013 is a dreadful time to try to win support for measures intended merely to keep us on target for a 2°C temperature rise.

The EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) continues to deliver the 1.74% annual reduction in CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial sites required of it.

Yet some fear that the scheme is at risk of total collapse, with the price of carbon allowances now so low that the ETS is providing no encouragement for low-carbon investment. Even coal is making a come back in Europe.

At another time the commission’s “backloading” proposals might be regarded as no more than a minor regulatory adjustment, intended to sustain the carbon price while not affecting the number of allowances available.

But securing support for any measure that might result in even a marginal increase in the cost of power is now difficult. The commission’s plans are hotly contested in parliament.

Were it free from the restraints of political reality, the commission should seize the initiative and publish proposals for phase IV of the ETS, for the period 2020–30. These would insist on increasing the trajectory of emission reductions significantly above 1.74%.

But now is not that time. Politicians today would approve only measures that are far less ambitious. Publication in 2014 of the next IPCC report may inject a renewed sense of urgency and economic prospects will improve.

The next commission – which takes office next year – must pick its moment.

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