When news broke last year that the wreck of British explorer Sir John Franklin’s second ship, HMS Terror, had been found off the coast of Canada, over 150 years after the ill-fated crew set sail, the article stubbornly remained perched at the top of many newspapers’ most-read article lists.
At the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December last year, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. The radical agreement set out a global action plan to shift the world economy away from fossil fuels in an effort to limit heat waves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
In October’s meeting of the European Parliament I and my fellow MEPs were extremely proud to be part of a large majority that voted to endorse the agreement’s ratification by the European Union. The endorsement of 55 parties representing at least 55% of global emissions was needed for the Agreement to enter into force. While the first condition had already been met, the European Parliament’s vote qualified the second condition as well. The EU will now join major greenhouse gas emitters including the US, China and India at a meeting in Marrakesh next month.
The European Union has a long track record of leadership against climate change and accounts for 12 % of global greenhouse gas emissions. Seven EU member countries have already completed their national domestic processes in order to comply with the agreement. These are Hungary, France, Slovakia, Austria, Malta, Portugal and Germany.
With the Parliament’s consent, the European Council can formally adopt the Decision and will now proceed to deposit the ratification instruments in the UN headquarters in New York. The Paris Agreement on fighting climate change, the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal, will now come into force in November, having met the necessary conditions much earlier than predicted.
I believe the vote underlined the important fact that cooperation and tackling issues together are the only solutions to global problems.
At the time of writing this the COP21 Climate Conference has just begun. This is the international political response to climate change that began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 with the adoption of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change and has now reached COP21 - the 21st, and most urgent review of this Framework and its implementation.
I am sure that like myself Caithness Courier readers will be hoping, and trusting, that our leaders will show the courage and commitment to make the hard choices necessary to alleviate the dreadful consequences of climate change and ultimately to save our planet.
The aim of COP21 is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change - that of keeping global warming below a critical threshold of 2 °C. This is as well as helping those countries such as Bangladesh, Sudan and Vietnam who are already seriously affected. It is not an easy target and will take a considerable reduction in emissions, especially from the largest emitters such as the United States and China, as well as commitments to sustainable development for poorer countries, which must be financed by our wealthier nations.
The costs of the UK's over-reliance on fossil fuels are unsustainable, yet our government is failing to grasp this reality and not sufficiently backing the renewable energy market. We have seen subsidies scrapped for onshore wind, solar and other renewable sources, putting us behind international competitors on the most secure, clean and economically viable source of energy on earth.
In the EU, one method that has been undertaken to achieve climate and energy objectives has been Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This is a technology that can capture up to 90% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes, preventing the carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
So, it is of course very regrettable that in his Autumn Statement, the UK Chancellor George Osborne has included plans to axe a planned £1bn grant for developing new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. This has closed off one of the key avenues for the UK's transition to a low-carbon economy and it now seems that the UK government is removing all committed public support for the demonstration of Carbon Capture and Storage in the UK. It is frightening and hugely depressing that such a cynical and short-sighted decision should have come on the eve of COP21, a hugely important conference that is seeking unity and commitment to find a solution to the most basic and urgent issue facing the future of our planet.
The European Parliament has been at the forefront of the global response to climate change, passing new legislation that will help curb greenhouse gas emissions and steer the EU towards a low-carbon economy less dependent on costly fossil fuel imports. MEPs are participating in COP21 and will continue to call on the European Union and international partners to show more ambition to work towards a globally binding climate treaty.
Labour MEPs today called on Congress to stand firm against the climate sceptics and ensure climate action is a key part of US trade deals, including the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).