EU to Hit New Milestone on Climate Change Abatement Spending (But Should We Care?)

Party hats out.

The European Commission informed the world Wednesday that at least 20% of the European Union’s budget for the next 2014-2020 funding period will be spent on climate-related projects and policies. 

Says Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate watchdog honcho, in the Commission press release: ”Today is an incredibly important day for Europe and for the fight against climate change….This is a major step forward for our efforts to handle the climate crisis…”

And: “This underscores yet again Europe’s leadership in the fight against this crucial challenge. I believe the EU is the first region in the world to mainstream climate action into its whole budget.”

Hedegaard’s gushy tendencies and legacy-craving aside, there a few points here to consider.

First, the tone-deaf question: With European and Eurozone unemployment, take your pick, still at record levels, economic growth still limping along and deflation in Europe now a creeping threat because of the aforementioned, is the Commission’s, Hedegaard’s, chest-beating on EU climate change ‘leadership’ something people in Europe really care about right now?

Secondly, sentient beings are generally already aware that climate change abatement is a high EU policy priority — the only one actually where alignment exists between Member States — and that the EU and European nations have enviably produced all sorts of meaningful and important policies to decarbonize Europe. But chest-beating on an almost daily basis about it, as Hedegaard does, is desperate.

Worse for Hedegaard and Company is that the ritual of telling the world how the EU, representing a mere 10% of global emissions, ‘leads’ on climate change is often a quiet picture, with a self-designated leader with no one following from behind.   

Third, what matters most actually, though, comes down to outcomes, not inputs of how much cash your throwing at the important problem, and the chest-beating.

A couple of examples are instructive: Despite being the engine of the continent’s renewable energy spending, Germany is still expected to see carbon emissions rise this year by 2%, while carbon emissions in the U.S. are falling (from a high base, of course) and near a 20-year low.

Electricity from the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, is filling the gap in Germany for the series of natural gas power plants closed the past two years from the unintended consequences of Germany’s uber spending on solar and wind power; meanwhile, the long-told story of America’s jackpot with shale gas has resulted in the shuttering of dozens of coal plants and falling emissions there and tanker-loads of of cheap coal exports to Europe, among other places.

If Europe wasn’t mired in recession, its emissions would be higher by any measure. And many Europeans probably would hope, quietly, that carbon emissions actually begin to rise again in the continent as a bloc as an indication that economic conditions are improving.

To paraphrase the tired saying: speak lightly, Hedegaard and Company, but carry a big stick.

By Spencer Swartz



Mark Johnston
November 24, 2013 | 8:11 PM

That was a tad pre-historic.