EU still beating US and China on climate action, says UK envoy

Despite emissions cutting pact, US and China are trailing EU on climate ambition, says Sir David King

Pic: WEF/Flickr

Pic: WEF/Flickr

By Sophie Yeo

The US is still behind the European Union, despite yesterday’s pledge to cut emissions 26 to 28% by 2025, says the UK’s lead climate diplomat Sir David King.

Diplomatically, the announcement by the US and China was “critically important” – but more is needed, he added. In October, the EU agreed to cut its emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030.

“The US second period 2020-2025 is a 3% drop [in emissions year on year]. We need globally a 2% drop from 2020,” he said.

“It does at least begin to move the US in the right direction, but let me say behind the European Union. The EU and other countries are using 1990 as the baseline, the US is using 2005, and that does make it easier for the US.

“Nevertheless, this is a very important announcement.”

 He added: “It means we are very likely to get an agreement in Paris in December 2015.”


Sir David has undertaken a rigorous schedule of climate diplomacy on behalf of the UK’s Foreign Office since he was appointed special representative for climate change in 2013.

At Imperial College in London last night, he said that he now often ends up speaking to heads of states on his trips abroad, as climate change climbs up the diplomatic agenda.

World leaders are getting involved ahead of the UN’s conference in Paris next year, where an emissions cutting deal is expected to be signed.

The UK has 80 climate attachés in embassies around the world working towards that deal.

Sir David previously expressed concern that China could “derail” a UN climate deal with their reluctance to take a stance on climate change.

This is one reason why the US-China joint statement has been seen as a watershed moment in the fight against climate change: not only for the new targets it sets, but also for the unprecedented cooperation it shows between the two countries, which are together responsible for at least 40% of global emissions.

China’s goal to peak emissions by 2030 was the first time that the world’s biggest polluter had pledged to reduce its greenhouse gases in absolute terms.

Falling short

With countries expected to announce ambitious new targets on climate change by the first quarter of 2015, it is hoped that the US-China announcement will prompt other large emitters into taking action.

“We’re still waiting for India, Brazil and a few other countries, and then the biggest emitters will have put their cards on the table,” said Pascal Canfin, a former French minister who helped prepare for the UN’s Paris conference before quitting the government in April.

But despite the geopolitical significance of the US-China announcement, it falls short of what they could have announced, said Canfin, now a senior advisor at Washington based think-tank the World Resources Institute.

China had previously set a range of 2025-2035 in terms of peaking its emissions, while the US said after Copenhagen it expected to reduce emissions 30% by 2025.

The commitments were not enough when measured up against scientific warnings and came in at the low end of initial ambition, said Canfin.

“We could have had something with the same impact from a geopolitical perspective, a joint statement and so on, but with a more necessary substance.”

EU targets

The EU is expected to reduce its emissions by around 24.5% by 2020 on the lower 1990 baseline, putting it around a decade ahead of the US in practical terms.

However, its 2030 target only represents around a 1.5% year-on-year drop in emissions next decade, compared to 3% for the US.

Canfin predicted that the US would use this argument to claim it had outstripped the EU in terms of climate action, while the EU would highlight that in terms of actual reductions it remains ahead of the US.

The better response would be to leave behind this game playing and “start moving forward all together,” he said.

According to initial analysis by Cambridge climate economist Chris Hope, the combined pledges of the EU, China and the US still only give the world a 1% chance of staying below the “safe” threshold of 2C warming.

Read more on: China | Climate politics | EU | UN climate talks | US