River grasses in the Una River in Bosnia. Photo © Ken Geiger/The Nature Conservancy

2016 is now set to be the warmest year on record[1]. In Europe, this observed climate change has already led to a wide range of impacts on the environment, economy and human health[2].

Counted together, European countries make up the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world[3], and recognizing the risks of inaction, the EU has set itself a long-term goal of reducing these emissions 80-95 percent by 2050[4]. If the EU was not to reach this target, the long-term goals set within the landmark Paris Climate Agreement agreed last December are very likely out of reach.

As climate experts from around the world descended on Marrakesh, Morocco for this year’s annual climate change negotiations, it was encouraging to see countries re-affirm their commitment to taking bold action together. Even more so when one considers a backdrop throughout 2016 of some major political events, and sluggish growth in many economies.

European actors played a critical and vocal role sending this clear signal to the world of collective commitment to action. The EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the “EU wouldn’t shift its position on…the Paris climate-change agreement,” calling these accords “key European interests.”[5]

During the first week of the negotiations, the UK ratified the Paris Agreement (the EU having already done so—and in record time), taking the opportunity to highlight its proposal to phase out the use of coal in energy generation by 2025[6]—where it has also been joined by Finland who plan to achieve the same by 2030. A host of European countries (including Germany, France, UK, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands) were also central to the newly launched NDC[7] Partnership, which will enable cooperation between countries of the North and the South towards implementing the Paris Agreement.

What was noticeable was that Ministers’ were very strongly outlining the economic opportunities that such commitments present, with the UK Climate Change and Industry Minister Nick Hurd noting: “we are going to use this positive momentum to grow the UK low-carbon sector, which is already worth over £46bn, as we continue to provide secure, affordable and clean energy to our families and businesses.”[8]

Ambitious action on climate change is therefore no longer just the “green” thing to do; it is economically rational.

In part, this is being driven by the cost reductions seen and expected for many renewable technologies. Within Europe, the next decade and a half will see renewable energy raise its share of electricity generation capacity from 40 percent in 2012 to 60 percent in 2030[9]. The vast majority of this expansion will be on cost-competitive terms with fossil-fuels; indeed, the only major renewable power technology forecast to remain subsidized in Europe in the 2020s is offshore wind[10].

Non-state actors also played a prominent role. During the latter part of the negotiations, more than 360 global companies and investors (including leading European businesses such as Unilever and Ikea) stated their continued support for previously agreed limits on global warming and to accelerate efforts to move to a low-carbon economy. Whilst just a few days earlier, the “Under 2 MoU” coalition of sub-national governments who have signed up to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 80 to 95%, grew to 165 jurisdictions (including 38 in Europe)—together they represent more than 1.08 billion people and $25.7 trillion in GDP, equivalent to more than a third of the global economy.

Of course, much to do remains if the global Paris Agreement climate goals are to be met, and Europe must play its role. The Conservancy remains committed to supporting the EU and its member states both with international action—such as we have done in partnership with the German and Norwegian governments—and domestically (see sidebar below) on critical challenges, where our knowledge and expertise can deliver transformational change.

But the sheer multitude and diversity of actors now committed to tackling climate change, many of whom from Europe, and the resilience in the global response to climate change this produces, was perhaps the biggest take-away for from this year’s climate negotiations.


TNC in Europe: Renewables in the Balkans

The Štrbački buk waterfalls and the the Una River form a natural border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Photo © Ken Geiger/The Nature Conservancy
The Štrbački buk waterfalls and the the Una River form a natural border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Photo © Ken Geiger/The Nature Conservancy

The Western Balkans, home to many of Europe’s remaining free-flowing rivers and rich biodiversity, is a region targeted for a substantial increase in hydropower capacity, mainly through building new infrastructure. Using science as a guide, TNC are engaging with major financial institutions, policy makers and NGOs to identify how future energy needs supplied by Hydropower can be met while at the same time not increasing the pressure on biodiversity. We plan to expand this work to other renewable technologies to complement hydropower and further reduce the pressure in the near future.


Chris Webb is the Senior Climate Policy Advisor and UK relationship manager for The Nature Conservancy’s Europe Region.

[1] https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/climate-trends-continue-to-break-records/

[2] http://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/europe/climate-change-impacts-and-adaptation

[3] http://www.wri.org/blog/2014/11/6-graphs-explain-world%E2%80%99s-top-10-emitters

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/energy-strategy/2050-energy-strategy

[5] http://www.wsj.com/articles/eu-seeks-ways-to-assert-itself-on-global-issues-in-wake-of-u-s-election-1479078247

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/coal-generation-in-great-britain-the-pathway-to-a-low-carbon-future

[7] National Determined Contribution (NDC)—these are documents which outline each countries’ planned contribution to meeting the global Paris Agreement goals

[8] http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-global-warming-paris-agreement-uk-ratifies-a7422341.html

[9,10] https://about.bnef.com/press-releases/european-renewable-energy-investment-set-surge-2030-back-nearly-1-trillion-investment/

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