Opinion pieces

Global climate action is not just for COP

YOU MAY BE surprised to learn that the first time the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis was referenced in a COP agreement was in Glasgow in 2021.

A call to “phase-down” coal and “phase-out” fossil fuel subsidies was hard fought, and hard won. Phasing out fossil fuels is an essential step on the way to decarbonisation and building a carbon-neutral world.

Before that, the landmark COP agreement at Paris in 2015 was the first time that the signatories (194 countries) had ever supported a common strategy to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

This year at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, the EU and other negotiators want to go further. Progressive countries are calling for a phase-out of all fossil fuels, not just coal (this should go some way to explaining the presence of over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists at the summit). Led by Irish Environment Minister Eamon Ryan, the EU’s Loss and Damage negotiating team yesterday proposed a finance facility to compensate the most vulnerable countries.

Slow progress

You could be forgiven for wondering if COP is really fit for purpose when it takes three decades to recognise the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis. And indeed, over time, criticism of the COP process has mounted from many sides.

"However, despite the relatively low level of ambition agreed and the growing pageantry around the conference – we need COP. Why? Because global problems like climate change need global solutions."

That does not mean we can or should pin all our hopes on COP. We should also beware of concentrating on the climate action we take in these two weeks per year. Instead, we need to promote the same sense of urgency and responsibility throughout the year, and actions to mitigate climate change should be sustained, not sporadic. More mitigation means less climate change to adapt to and less loss and damage to pay for.

What needs to change?

At COP27, Ireland is part of the EU negotiating team. If the COP negotiators are deciding the action we need to take globally, in Europe, the EU is designing the pathway there for its 450 million citizens.

Since July 2021, lawmakers in Brussels, including your Irish MEPs and Government representatives, have been in intense negotiations over a suite of new climate laws called the ‘Fit for 55’ package. They are making regular decisions about how we will fulfil our climate commitments.

"Together, these new laws aim to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 55% between the years 1990 and 2030. By 2050, the EU wants to be the world’s first climate-neutral continent. To get us there, the Fit for 55 laws will set targets to ‘green’ transport, aviation, and industry, over time."

Bold decarbonisation measures have been approved so far under this package. Already this year, the European Parliament has voted in favour of a total phase-out of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) by 2035 and in favour of aviation targets that mean by 2050, jet fuel in planes should be replaced almost entirely with cleaner, sustainable aviation fuels.

"Next up on the EU decarbonisation agenda are buildings. Why buildings? Well in Europe, the buildings we live and work in are responsible for 40% of our energy consumption, and 36% of our greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, over 70% of Europe’s buildings are energy inefficient. There is no carbon-neutral Europe without decarbonising buildings."

The EU aims to decarbonise every building in Europe with a draft law known as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive or ‘EPBD’. I am leading negotiations on this law for the European Parliament as rapporteur.

By 2050 with this law, all homes and buildings should be well-insulated, energy efficient, and powered by clean renewable technologies like solar panels and heat pumps with lower fuel bills. The use of oil and gas in home heating and cooling systems will end. The pandemic has taught us the importance of clean air, both in our homes and communities, and a fossil fuel phase-out helps achieve this. As war rages in Ukraine, our dependency on these expensive fuels reminds us that if we insulate homes, we isolate Putin.

Change can happen

In Dublin’s North Inner City, St Bricin’s Park housing gives us a glimpse into this future. There, Dublin City Council has renovated cold and draughty mid-twentieth century housing for older people to a Passive House standard. Heating bills have reduced dramatically and residents are feeling the benefit of warm and comfortable homes with low energy bills.

"The EPBD is just one example of an EU law that can deliver climate action not only for 450 million Europeans but also mitigate the impacts of climate change for billions across the world. Decarbonising Europe’s energy-guzzling buildings can be a key element to delivering the commitments we make at COP to reduce our emissions and phase-out fossil fuels."

Post-COP27, decarbonisation and reducing emissions remain our fundamental tasks to limit further increases in global temperatures and, consequently, further loss and damage.

As COP27 comes to a close, I hope that European leaders will be emboldened upon their return from Sharm el-Sheikh to show the political ambition and leadership necessary to pursue those tasks with the same determination and commitment.


November 19, 2022

first published


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