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Global warming and emissions reduction targets

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published in 2018 shows that global temperatures are already 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels (1850–1900). If global warming continues at the current rate, the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit will be exceeded by 2050. 

The IPCC report states that if we exceed the 1.5 degree Celsius limit, this will dramatically accelerate the rate at which species become extinct, have a higher impact on some of the Earth’s land regions making them uninhabitable, and increase the risk of disruptions to water supply and food production.

An important objective in mitigating climate change is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. To do so, we need international collaboration. The UN Convention on Climate Change along with the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement (concluded in December 2015) are at the heart of international climate policy. 

The Paris Agreement is aimed at keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The parties to the agreement, however, are committed to trying to limit the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The EU’s key role in climate policy 

The EU also has a key role to play in international climate policy. The EU energy and climate policy until 2020 is regulated by the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Convention on Climate Change and, within the EU, by the climate and energy package. The Paris Agreement applies to the period beyond 2020, after the end of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Member states are currently discussing the EU’s emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2050. The EU and other parties to the Paris Agreement have pledged to update their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for 2030 and to submit their long-term emissions reduction strategies to the UN. 

A Commission communication titled A Clean Planet for all – A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy was recently published. This helped launch a debate on how Europe should prepare for submitting its long-term strategy to the UN. The strategy covers the period until 2050 and it aims to define, for example, whether the EU will commit to becoming carbon neutral and how to achieve this. Carbon neutrality means capturing the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that is emitted into it. The discussion on the long-term strategy will continue during Finland’s Presidency.

Three milestones in the history of the EU’s climate policy:  

  1. The first European Council discussions on climate change took place after the first IPCC assessment report was published in 1990 and when the Council was preparing for the UN climate conference. At the time, it was decided that the EU would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to the 1990 level by 2001. 
  2. The world’s first legally binding climate change agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, was adopted in 1997. The Kyoto Protocol supplements and promotes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) by imposing legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries. Both the EU and the individual member states have ratified the protocol. The EU put together an energy and climate package extending to 2020 that is designed to meet the targets of the Kyoto Protocol.
  3. The Paris Agreement, which is a global agreement to combat climate change, was adopted on 12 December 2015. The EU officially ratified it in 2016. The Paris Agreement sets out an action plan to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. It covers the period from 2020 onwards. In response to the Agreement, the EU drafted a legislative package that is in force until 2030. 

Read more about international climate policy

Council of the EU: Tackling climate change in the EU

Council of the EU: Infographic - Climate change: how will the EU deliver? 

Council of the EU: Paris Agreement on climate change 

European Commission: Climate strategies & targets