EU warns of global climate chaos | The Guardian | Guardian UnlimitedThe European commission yesterday stepped up the EU's campaign to lead the fight against climate change by warning that global warming was so catastrophic that it could trigger regional conflicts, poverty, famine and migration.
Setting out a strategy to combat global warming and improve Europe's energy security at the same time, it said the secondary effects of climate change, such as conflicts elsewhere, would inevitably affect even a less vulnerable Europe.
In the wake of last year's Stern report in the UK, the commission forecast severe impacts on certain ecosystems, with some species and habitats disappearing, and a decline in global food production, with the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
Weather impacts are likely to include higher temperatures, heatwaves and increased dryness with the risk of drought and fires, and elsewhere increased rainfall, storms and floods. Southern Europe, including Italy and Spain, would be the region most affected.
The commission concludes that if urgent action is not taken, billions of pounds worth of damage will be caused. It aims to steer the world towards keeping the rise in temperature to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels.
The commission said that if temperatures rise by 2.2C, an extra 11,000 people in Europe will die within a decade and from 2071 there would be 29,000 extra deaths a year in southern Europe alone. Only slightly fewer - 27,000 - would die in northern Europe. It said there was a 50% chance that global temperatures would rise this century by more than 5C
The dire warnings came as the commission asserted the EU's ambition to be the world's first low-carbon economy by proclaiming a global target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020. Current EU energy policies were unsustainable and would increase Europe's emissions by 5% by 2030, it added.
However, the new policy came under immediate attack from green groups and MEPs, who accused the commission of leaving it to international agreement, including with the recalcitrant US, to hit the 30% target, while just aiming for a 20% cut in the EU's own emissions. Campaigners also criticised the commission for setting a "paltry" renewable energy target of 20% and for covertly reopening the door for nuclear power. But they welcomed the binding minimum target of 10% for biofuels in passenger vehicles by 2020.
Brussels said urgent measures to reduce greenhouse gases would only slightly reduce economic growth in developed countries - by 0.14% a year.
Announcing the new energy strategy, to be discussed by an EU summit in early March, Jose Manuel Barroso, the commission president, called on Europe to lead the world into a new, post-industrial revolution. If adopted, he said, these proposals "would be by far the most ambitious ever in the world".
Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, said the unilateral target of cutting emissions by at least 20% by 2020 was more than double the 8% target for 2012 set out in the Kyoto protocol. But he added: "We are not going to be effective if we act alone." Mr Barroso said this week's talks in Washington with the US president, George Bush, had convinced him that America "will change and will be much more ambitious in future when it comes to fighting climate change".
The commission president dismissed criticism that the renewables target, partly designed to lower the EU's growing dependence on overseas, especially Russian, fuels, was inadequate. But Greenpeace said that to be sustainable the target should be at least 35%.
The commission warned that with nuclear power now providing 31% of electricity output, EU countries phasing out atomic power plants must replace them with other low-carbon energy sources. It emphasised that nuclear power is one of the cheapest sources of low-carbon energy. The commissioners said it was up to each country to decide, but their remarks are seen as a clear nod to countries such as Germany that are already thinking of building new nuclear plants.