The climate treaty is NOT negotiable

There has been a lot of headline news regarding climate change this summer – it’s sometimes hard to keep up. The one headline that resonated loudest around the world was the USA pulling out of the Paris Agreement - a decision that has sparked international outrage. The global reaction has been unprecedented and unexpectedly reactive – climate change is actually being considered “political enough” to rise to the top of the recent G20 agenda.

World leaders gathered for the G20 Summit in Hamburg on the 7th and 8th of July. Germany played a strong leadership role: affirming that the Paris Agreement is not negotiable, a sentiment that France and Italy firmly supported. The G20 Leaders’ Declaration that followed the Summit states: “The Leaders of the G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible.”

An outcome of the Summit was the adoption of the G20 Climate and Energy Action Plan. This plan supports the Paris Agreement by setting goals to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and to drive countries towards affordable renewable energy systems as soon as possible. The commitment displayed by world leaders during the G20 Summit, as they resisted the efforts of the USA to water down the plan, is a reassuring sign that remaining 19 leaders are well aware of the urgent need to divest from fossil fuels. 

Collectively, G20 countries account for approximately 80% of global GHG emissions, as well as 80% of global GDP. The future is literally in their hands. As terrifying as it may be, in this cynical world, to realise that 20 individuals have the collective power to determine the fate of humanity - we can derive some hope from the attention climate change is being given in international policy discussions, as well as from their alleged commitment to the Paris Agreement. Whether they will demonstrate this same determination in the implementation of these policies is another matter – one we are yet to witness. 


The EU’s “leadership role”  

Germany and France are playing a key leadership role in the international climate policy debate. Macron has started his presidency positioning France as a strong global leader on climate change, affirming that France will go beyond their climate pledge. Merkel is standing up to the USA’s opposition, and building global confidence that international action on climate change will move forward with or without the Trump administration. At the G20 Summit, Merkel also emphasised the increased importance of EU leadership, and the importance of EU Member States’ cooperation in implementing the Paris Agreement.

National progress is being demonstrated across Europe: The Netherlands is well on its way to meet its 2020 target of cutting emissions by 25% compared to 1990 levels, while Sweden has just passed a historic bill committing to becoming carbon neutral by 2045. Macron announced that France would stop completely the granting of licenses for new oil and gas explorations and has pledged to end sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

The European Union and its 28 Member States make up 12% of global GHG emissions. The EU must guarantee that the same leadership being exerted by some of its Member States is replicated across the entire bloc. Ambitious EU policies are needed to pave the way for all Member States to benefit from the clean energy transition and create opportunities across all economic sectors. Considering the climate policy momentum and the international expectations on the EU to be an ambitious climate leader, domestic climate policy developments taking place in Brussels are a bitter taste of disappointment.


EU climate and energy policies

The G20 Declaration states: “We remain collectively committed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through, among others, increased innovation on sustainable and clean energies and energy efficiency, and work towards low greenhouse-gas emission energy systems.”

This statement, endorsed only one week ago by the EU, affirms the important role that energy efficiency is expected to play in the low-carbon transition. Perfect timing, as the Energy Efficiency Directive is currently under revision.

The European Parliament released an initial proposal of its position, calling for an increased binding target of 40% energy efficiency. In June, EU Energy Ministers adopted their position on the Energy Efficiency Directive revision for the period 2021-2030. It is regrettable to see they have not only diluted ambition, but are pushing to make the target indicative rather then legally binding. Environmental organisations are concerned with the direction this revision is taking: if the target remains voluntary it would greatly undermine the EU’s commitment under the Paris Agreement.

Improving energy efficiency brings many benefits: the reduction of GHG emissions, the consequent improvement in air quality and improved health of population, and investment opportunities and the creation of green jobs.

The EU currently has a unique opportunity to live up to the leadership role it is proclaiming internationally. In fact, it is not only the Energy Efficiency file that is under revision, but all files of the “Climate & Energy Package”, the Emissions Trading Scheme, and the Effort Sharing Regulation. All of these files will determine the fate of EU climate action. 

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe affirms that the EU’s 2030 Climate and Energy Targets are not compatible with the objectives of the Paris Agreement to keep temperature rise below 2oC.

2017 – 2018 is the time for the European Union to “walk the talk” - there is still time left for the EU to live up to the name of global climate leader and to effectively comply with its climate promises.


How can the healthcare sector lead?

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) reports that half of the NHS facilities in London (roughly 1,100) have indoor air pollution above legal limits (i.e. toxic enough to aggravate existing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and pose a threat to the lung and heart development of small children). A terrifying finding that demonstrates the vulnerabilities of health care provision and public health in the face of worsening climate change.

Campaigns lead by medical professionals, such as Doctors Against Diesel, have come to life in order to reduce the impact of air pollution on children’s health by campaigning for ambitious policies to reduce the biggest sources of air pollution.

Hospitals across Europe are already taking active measures to reduce the GHG emissions from all of their polluting activities. HCWH Europe’s recent ‘Reducing Healthcare’s Climate Footprint’ report showcases the work of a number of European hospitals and health systems, sharing their experiences and strategies to reduce emissions from their institutions. In this report you can learn about energy efficiency measures that can be replicated by all health systems to reduce not only energy costs, but GHG emissions as well. Through low-investment measures such as awareness rising and behavioural change programmes, the health sector has the capacity and resources to take simple measures to improve indoor and outdoor air quality, whilst simultaneously improving patients’ health and reducing the institution’s contribution to climate change.

Whether world leaders stick to their mandate and guide the world towards the sound implementation of the Paris Agreement or not, hospitals and health systems should not wait to find out - they should learn from these existing experiences and join the movement of healthcare climate action and get ahead of the policy process, and to stay true to the Hippocratic oath to “first, do no harm.”

 - Ana-Christina Gaeta, Climate & Resources Policy Officer


Preview image: The White House via Flickr CC