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Strategy on climate change: foundations of the strategy

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Strategy on climate change: foundations of the strategy

On the basis of an analysis of the effects of climate change and the costs and benefits of action in this area, the Commission is establishing the bases of a future EU climate change strategy. This strategy would be based on, among other things, implementation of existing policies, the preparation of new measures in coordination with other European policies, more research, greater international cooperation and measures to increase public awareness.


Commission Communication of 9 February 2005 "Winning the battle against global climate change" [COM(2005) 35 - Official Journal C 125 of 21 May 2005].


Climate change is happening. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the cause is emissions of greenhouse gases from human activity. These constantly increasing emissions are responsible for an increase in temperatures, which is expected to continue over the coming decades to reach +1.4° to +5.8° Celsius globally by the year 2100 (compared to 1990 temperatures) according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

On the basis of an analysis of the effects of climate change and the costs and benefits of action in this area, the Commission recommends that a number of elements should be included in the EU's future climate change strategy.

Elements of a climate change strategy

A strategy to combat climate change represents a four-fold challenge: the climate risk itself and the political will to face up to it, international participation in efforts to tackle climate change, the innovation needed for changes in the production and use of energy, and adaptation of countries to the unavoidable effects of climate change.

Accordingly, any strategy should include:

  • extension of action against climate change to all the polluting countries (with common but differentiated responsibilities) and sectors involved (all modes of transport, deforestation etc.);
  • enhanced innovation, which includes the implementation and deployment of existing technologies and the development of new technologies (in particular by means of active support policies which take advantage of normal capital replacement);
  • use and development of market-based instruments (such as the emissions trading system introduced by the EU);
  • harnessing of preventive and remedial efforts to adapt to climate change based on the most affected regions and economic sectors.

Consideration could be given to these elements through the following actions:

  • immediate and effective implementation of agreed policies in order to meet the target of the 8 % reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (compared with 1990 levels) agreed in the Kyoto Protocol. The measures concerned include those identified in the Green Paper on the security of energy supply and the White Paper on transport policy, as well as measures to promote climate-friendly technologies, such as the ecotechnologies;
  • increased public awareness to encourage people to change their behaviour, i.e. through the launching of an EU-wide awareness campaign;
  • more and better focussed research to further improve knowledge on climate change and its global and regional impact and to develop cost-effective climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies (in particular in the energy and transport sectors, but also in agriculture and industry);
  • stronger cooperation with third countries at the scientific level and through climate-friendly technology transfer as well as through specific measures with developing countries to draw up climate-friendly development policies and strengthen the adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable countries. The EU should therefore maintain its role of a driving force in international negotiations in this area;
  • a new phase of the European climate change programme in 2005 in order to determine new measures to be taken in synergy with the Lisbon strategy, particularly in relation to energy efficiency, renewable energy, the transport sector and carbon capture and storage.

Benefits and costs of the strategy

The benefits of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions stem mainly from the prevention of damage resulting from climate change, such as an increase in sea levels and flooding, greater pressure on drinking water resources, health risks, changes in ecosystems, adverse effects on economies based on agriculture or tourism, increased likelihood of fires and extreme weather events (storms, heatwaves), resulting increase in insurance costs and expenditure etc. It is however difficult to put a precise figure on the benefits of such action. Moreover, not all regions or economic sectors within the European Union will be equally affected.

The costs of action are also difficult to evaluate. They would result mainly from the restructuring of transport systems and energy production and use. Moreover, these costs would increase significantly if no action is taken by the other major producers of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Commission, a less ambitious policy to combat climate change is not a sensible alternative, since it would not allow the set targets to be reached and would therefore lead to additional costs due to climate change.

Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere

In 2005, the European Council confirmed what the Council had already stated in 1996, namely that the global temperature increase had to be limited to 2°C above preindustrial levels. This 2°C objective is often presented in terms of atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and expressed in parts per million (ppmv).

Recent research indicates that a level of 550 ppmv (CO2 equivalents) offers at most a one in six chance of respecting the 2°C target, while if the concentration were to rise to 650 ppmv, there is a one in sixteen change of meeting the target. Consequently, limiting the temperature rise to 2ºC would very probably require greenhouse gas emissions to be stabilised at much lower levels. However, quantifying the reduction target depends on the result of the international discussions to be held on the level and type of participation of other major greenhouse gas emitters. Therefore, the Commission is not recommending the adoption of a specific EU target at this stage.


Decision No 280/2004/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 concerning a mechanism for monitoring Community greenhouse gas emissions and for implementing the Kyoto Protocol [Official Journal L 49 of 19.02.2004].

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 3 June 1998 - Climate change - Towards an EU post-Kyoto strategy [COM(98) 353 - Not published in the Official Journal].

Council Decision 2002/358/EC of 25 April 2002 concerning the approval, on behalf of the European Community, of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the joint fulfilment of commitments thereunder [Official Journal L 130 of 15.05.2002].

Directive 2003/87/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 October 2003 establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community and amending Council Directive 96/61/EC [Official Journal L 275 of 25.10.2003].

Last updated: 08.06.2005