Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The spectre of climate refugees

It is becoming apparent that the social impacts of climate change could be as devastating as its environmental consequences in the near term. The melting Arctic aleady has nations jockeying to claim the rights to seabed minerals that were heretofore tucked away out of sight and mind by impenetrable ice. Now we learn that government officials throughout the European Union are concerned about how to cope with climate refugees -- millions of people forced to flee their countries due to the loss of arable land. (GW)

Spring Summit to address economy and climate change

March 10, 2008

As EU heads of state and government prepare to descend on Brussels for an annual summit to discuss the EU's CO2 reduction commitments and the 'growth and jobs' agenda, a new report warns European leaders about waves of immigration driven by intensifying climate change.


Since 2000, when the EU's ambitious 'Lisbon Strategy' for growth and jobs was launched amid an atmosphere of steady global economic growth and optimism, the annual Spring European Council, or Spring Summit, has been an occasion for European leaders to discuss the current state of the EU's economy as well as its future prospects.

This year's summit will be held in Brussels from 13 to 14 March.

As in previous years, EU heads of state are expected to discuss the economic topics currently affecting the EU and its Lisbon Strategy, re-launched in 2005 by Commission President José Manuel Barroso as a strategy for 'growth and jobs'.

Concerns about turmoil in global financial markets, the strength of the euro and overall growth prospects are likely to feature high on the agenda at the summit.

EU leaders are expected to endorse a code of conduct for sovereign wealth funds amid concerns over increasing foreign purchases of strategic assets (EurActiv 28/02/08).

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have indicated they will put forward plans to resolve a deadlock over controversial plans to reduce vehicle CO2 emissions (EurActiv LinksDossier).

And language in support of speedy adoption of controversial proposals on energy market liberalisation (EurActiv LinksDossier) is likely to feature in the conclusions as well. Ideally, EU leaders would like to see agreement reached on the dossier in time for the next European summit, scheduled for June.

Embracing the targets?

In addition to economic concerns, the bloc's 27 governments are set to give further backing to an ambitious climate change commitment: to reduce the EU's CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 while upping the bloc's use of renewable energy by 20% during the same period.

Initially made in March 2007, the '20-20-20' commitments were translated into legislative proposals by the Commission on 23 January (EurActiv 24/01/08).

It is expected that the conclusions finalised during the Spring Summit will endorse the Commission's proposals following the generally positive reception of the plans by EU energy and environment ministers. The EU wants to see the measures finalised before the arrival of a new Commission and Parliament in 2009 in order to boost the EU's credibility in international negotiations to agree a global climate change deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2013.

The EU's 20% CO2 reduction target will be upped to 30% if such a deal is in place.

But the process of translating the 23 January proposals into law is not expected to be without controversy, despite public endorsements.

Potentially divisive haggling and negotiations are likely to characterise the coming year, as EU states argue over who should shoulder the greatest 'effort' to reduce industrial CO2 emissions while building and financing more renewable energy capacity.

Many EU states are also concerned that the climate change agenda being pushed in Brussels will threaten the competitiveness of their industries. Discussions on how to prevent 'carbon leakage' are expected to feature squarely on the agenda of Spring Summit (EurActiv 28/02/08).

The spectre of climate refugees

Even if upcoming negotiations on the 23 January 'package' go smoothly, there are growing concerns that EU, and even international, efforts will not be enough to address the potentially catastrophic consequences of a relentless rise in the Earth's average atmospheric temperatures, which UN scientists agree is caused by human activitiy in industry, housing, transport and agriculture.

A new study, to be made public and submitted to EU leaders during the Spring Summit, warns that by 2020, massive and increasing flows of refugees could overwhelm the responsive capacity of the international community, putting global governance at risk, the International Herald Tribune (IHT) reported.

The study, requested by Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Secretary-General of the Council, points to increasingly severe droughts and loss of crops, particularly in North and West Africa, where climate change is expected to lead to the loss of 75% of arable land by 2050.

"Migratory pressure at the EU's borders and political instability and conflict could increase in the future," according to the document, quoted by the IHT.

Meanwhile, the 2008 Environmental Outlook published last week (5 March) by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that just over 1% of global GDP growth over the next 20 years is needed to address the major challenges presented by climate change and environmental degradation.

"Solutions to the key environmental challenges are available, achievable and affordable, especially when compared to the expected economic growth and the costs and consequences of inaction," OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said in a statement.

Next steps:

  • 13-14 March: Spring European Council, Brussels.
  • June 2008: European Council.
  • End 2008: French EU Presidency seeks political agreement on climate and energy package.
  • Mid 2009: New Commission and Parliament.
  • Dec 2009: Major UN climate change conference in Denmark.


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