Preparing for war on CO2

Stavros Dimas
Eurpean Commission

Publish date: January 19, 2007

Written by: Claire Chevallier-Cordonnier

BRUSSELS – European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas says “a war economy is needed” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

Speaking before UK Members of Parliament (MPs) on January 11th, one day after the European Commission unveiled its new energy package, Mr Dimas declared that “as the scientific evidence accumulates, it is clear that the fight against climate change is much more than a battle. It is a world war that will last for many years and probably many generations.”

Mr Dimas justified that “it is like a war because to reduce remissions something very like a war economy is needed.” Taking the analogy one step further, he listed the consequences of traditional wars—damaged economies, refugees, political instability and the loss of life—and declared that these “will also be the results of unchecked climate change.”

A world war indeed, since every nation in the world will be affected by the consequences of climate change. “It is positive that the European Union appreciates the importance and the possibilities of this global challenge and wants to take leadership in the fight for the climate,” says Bellona’s energy director Beate Kristiansen. "Bellona will enthusiastically continue to follow this matter in the hopes that it leads to concrete undertakings and results."

The political challenge

The Commissioner added that the real challenges in successfully combating climate change are neither scientific, nor technical nor economic; they are solely political. He unfortunately noted that “when it comes to making difficult economic choices, there is still a gap between the rhetoric and the reality.”

“The acknowledgment that the challenge is of political nature is important,” asserts Bellona’s Kristiansen. “It puts aside the bad excuses—that the technology and knowledge are fragmented—used to postpone the necessary decisions."

A modern industrial revolution

Energy issues have undeniably taken the centre-stage over the past months in Brussels and will obviously continue to do so throughout 2007 and in the foreseeable future.

When presenting the new energy package last week (January 10th), the Commission declared that taken as a whole, it proposes to “set the pace for a new industrial revolution.” “If we take the right decisions now, Europe can lead the world to a new industrial revolution: the development of a low-carbon economy," declared Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

At the heart of the Commission’s proposal is the target to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, without affecting workplaces or competitiveness. In the longer-term, the Commission wishes to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 35% by 2030 and by over 50% by 2050.

As many in the European Union (EU) policy circles appear to think, the EU industry now has the great potential to gain a competitive advantage in being a leader in adapting to climate change by being the first to move in the direction the market is inevitably going to take. In the words of Commission President José Manuel Barroso, it is to “their advantage to lead and not to be led.”

Mr Dimas reiterated this stance, demonstrating why “a global response [to climate change] needs European leadership” by mentioning reasons such as “effective diplomacy,” “leadership by example” and competitiveness.


Indeed, Mr Dimas alluded to the oft-heard claim by representatives of EU industry that high environmental standards within the EU could damage competitiveness at the international level.

This claim was echoed by Ernest-Antoine Sellière, head of UNICE, the European business association, during a press conference linked to the presentation of the Commission’s energy package. Mr Sellière stated that “far-reaching unilateral EU targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases are unacceptable. Until the rest of the world follows EU leadership in the field of climate change, then such targets could jeopardise the future of business within the EU.”

Mr Sellière further added that “recourse to mandatory energy objectives set by public market authorities should be the exception, and arrived at on the basis of a very detailed impact assessment.”

Different folks, different strokes

However, as reported by Euractiv, this view may not find consensus within all representatives of EU industry. Chief executive of Swedish power company Vattenfall Lars G. Josefsson recently declared that “climate change is business and will lead to new jobs.”

Fulvo Conti from Italian utility Enel asserted that combating climate change “is a business opportunity,” adding that Enel and other energy groups were already investing billions in energy research and energy-efficiency.

In the United States (US), where no federal climate legislation exists, a rapidly growing number of companies are preparing for what they foresee as a booming market: carbon trading. As reported in the International Herald Tribune (IHT), most experts consider that nationally imposed CO2 emission limits will come into effect in the US between 2010 and 2012. “This cottage industry has the potential to become one of the largest commodity markets in the world,” said Emma Stewart, director of research and development at Business for Social Responsibility, a non-profit consulting and research organisation.

Ultimately, perhaps waging a “war” against climate change will contest Benjamin’s Franklin belief that “there was never a good war.”