The EU needs to take adaptation much more seriously in its upcoming climate plans.
The EU’s consultations on its 2040 climate target have started. The EU could be aiming for a reduction in CO2 emissions of up to 90%. That would entail a wholesale economic transformation beyond anything we have seen so far.
This effort is commendable. If we want to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century and bridge the gap with the 2030 target, a clear signal is needed. Moreover, climate change does not confine itself to five year-mandates, so climate policy gets better the longer-term view one takes.
However, global temperatures continue to rise. We are rapidly burning through the remaining amount of carbon emissions left to meet the Paris Agreement target to limit global warming to 1.5C by 2050. At the current pace, the world risks missing this target already before the end of the decade.
Some, therefore, argue the world should let go of what has become an unrealistic target. Instead, it should focus its resources on preparing to live in a warmer climate.
Meeting the 1.5C target is not a make-or-break scenario.
This is a flawed argument. Meeting this target is not a make-or-break scenario. Missing it doesn’t mean all efforts to limit emissions were in vain or should be abandoned. As any fraction of temperature increase can have disastrous effects on for example biodiversity, crop yields, and the occurrence of extreme weather patterns, the smaller the increase, the better.
But sound policymaking requires considering the risk of overshooting the 1.5C target. Therefore, we should both: reduce emissions and learn to live with a hotter climate.
Adaptation needs to take centre stage in the next Commission’s climate policy
The sooner the EU recognises this reality, the better. Next year, the new Commission has a chance to make adaptation an integral part of the EU’s climate policy, not treating it as an afterthought as it is today.
Its current package of measures is paper-thin for the magnitude of challenges the continent faces: a strategy that lacks legislative teeth and a dialogue with the hardly inspiring objective to exchange views on how climate-related losses can be addressed. Sadly, the ongoing consultation is cause for concern, asking participants for their views on adaptation a single time.
The question of how mankind will adapt to a changing climate looms ever larger in our daily lives, on politically charged issues such as migration to mundane ones like insurance. The EU prides itself on developing robust, future-proof policies. Preparing its citizens for life on a hotter planet should certainly be among them.
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July 13, 2023