Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Addressing Climate Change A Key Priority as Sweden Prepares for European Union Presidency

Combatting climate change will be one of Sweden's two priorities during its July 1 to December 31 presidency of the European Union.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who spoke yesterday in Brussels about his government's upcoming presidency, emphasized the need for the world to take more aggressive actions to combat climate change. Mr. Reinfeldt said:
"As I stand here today, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets continue to melt and sea levels continue to rise. We are experiencing more extreme weather conditions, with severe storms and droughts. And while this is happening, emission levels have not even started to decline.

"On the contrary. According to the IPCC, between 1970 and 2004 greenhouse gas emissions increased by 70 per cent. There is no more time to lose, if we do not want our children to suffer even more dramatic consequences of climate change.

"Over the last year I have often been told that, in the middle of deep economic crisis, countries cannot afford to spend money on "green dreams". I would argue the contrary. They cannot afford to keep their current costly energy sources.

"Let me take Ukraine as an example, and a particularly interesting one given recent signs of an impending gas crisis. Today Ukraine uses energy about three times less efficiently than EU countries on average. Studies demonstrate that if Ukraine's energy efficiency could reach the level of countries like Slovenia and the Czech Republic, Ukraine would come close to being independent of gas imports from Russia.

"So in addition to the benefit of having cleaner air, improved health and reduced risk of natural disasters, many countries would even improve their public finances by addressing climate change and their energy mixes. I guess that is what you call a 'win-win' situation.

"Studies by McKinsey show the same thing. Global greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by about 40 per cent by 2030 at a cost of less than half a per cent of global GDP. I will say it again: the cost of inaction is far higher than the cost of action.
I say this knowing that, at the same time, many developing countries will have difficulties making the initial investments. The EU has therefore stated its readiness to take on its fair share in the framework of an agreement in Copenhagen.

"The Swedish Presidency - and I personally - will do our utmost to continue to work out the details of such financing arrangements as well as ways of transferring technology, to enable an agreement on global emissions reductions in Copenhagen.

"We know that substantial mitigation efforts are needed in all countries if we are to keep the increase in global average temperature below two degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. Developed countries must take the lead in reducing emissions and reach a mid-term target of cutting emissions by 25 to 40 per cent.

"And the EU has done its homework. We have promised to cut emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 in the framework of an international agreement. The energy and climate package agreed last December is the most ambitious mitigation policy the world has ever seen."
In addition, Mr. Reinfeldt went a step farther and suggested, "We now need to initiate discussions on how economic instruments can best be utilised in climate policy. I believe tools such as a carbon tax and emissions trading, if designed well, can play a key role in addressing climate problems."

Easier said than done if you ask me. Carbon taxes, while considered in many circles a more efficient way to discourage greenhouse gas emissions, are anathema in the U.S. So this is effectively a non-starter in Washington, D.C. (and probably various corners of Europe as well including the U.K.).

Nevertheless, the Swedish PM seems encouraged by his view of the challenges ahead and particularly as they are reflected in the actions of the Obama Aministration: "I'm pleased to say that we are receiving encouraging signals from President Obama and his administration, who have profoundly improved the discussions on this issue."

But has the PM inadvertently put the kiss of death on EU-U.S. cooperation on this matter? In many parts of the U.S., the American presidency is not exactly supposed to embrace European proposals. It makes you look like a "citizen of the world" as opposed to only a "citizen of America."

It's no surprise that President Obama has proclaimed himself a citizen of the world. That's what liberal Democrats do. But so has one other fairly recent president: none other than Ronald Reagan...

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