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2030 climate targets should be increased for health protection

EU leaders recently endorsed the climate and energy targets for 2030. An EU-wide greenhouse gas reduction target of 40% will be insufficient to keep global warming in the 2 degree path or to achieve the EU objective of reducing emissions by 80-95% by 2050.

Member States endorsed a binding EU target of ’’at least 40%’’ domestic reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 compared to 1990; an EU-wide target of at least 27% is set for the share of renewable energy consumed in the EU in 2030 (without binding sub-targets for member states); and an indicative target at the EU level of at least 27% is set for improving energy efficiency in 2030 compared to projections of future energy consumption. The energy saving goal, which is weaker than the EU Commission’s 30% proposal, will be reviewed by 2020 “having in mind an EU level of 30%”.

Perceived low ambition on energy efficiency and renewables was heavily criticised by interest groups and civil society while a 40% emissions reduction goal is seen as inadequate, arguing that the target is out of step with climate science. The Heads of States position is also seen as marking the end of EU leadership in global climate action, only one year before the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris for a new international climate agreement that should take effect in 2020.

With this lower ambition level on moving to a low carbon economy, the EU will be confronted with higher costs linked to health problems, and is missing out on opportunities to achieve the maximum win-wins for climate and health. According to the European Commission’s own analysis a greenhouse gas target higher than 40% in combination with renewables and energy efficiency targets resulted in the highest monetary health co-benefits, ranging from 15 to 34.5 billion Euro per annum or 0.21% of EU GDP, while the 40% only targets didn’t reach more than 30 billion Euro in health savings. Unfortunately, the scenarios of the Commission’s impact assessment themselves were limited to a maximum reduction of 45% in greenhouse gas emissions, so that potential higher health savings from more adequate reduction pathways have not been included in the analysis.

As HEAL’s report Acting Now For Better Health in 2010 had shown for the 2020 climate targets of the EU, increased ambition on climate change leads to higher health co-benefits due to reductions in air pollution and subsequent drops in chronic disease rates, and reduces especially the long-term cumulative health impacts.

Climate change has serious impacts on human health yet EU leaders have chosen to put in place an inadequate framework that will eventually impose an additional strain on public health systems given the substantial impacts of climate change projected for human health. With increased mortality and morbidity and low benefits from air quality improvements, European citizens will have to pay for the additional costs.

The European Council will keep all the elements of the framework under review and will continue to give strategic orientations as appropriate, notably with respect to energy efficiency. The EU Commission is expected to propose priority sectors in which significant energy-efficiency gains can be achieved. Given the potential large health co-benefits from energy efficiency measures, but also possible health risks from inadequate building renovation which would have detrimental effects on indoor air quality, health concerns urgently needs to be addressed in climate and energy policies.

Last updated on 17 November 2014

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »

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