Annabelle Jaeger: COP21 – we can go beyond the targets set by the European Union

We met Annabelle Jaeger, member of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Regional Council (France) with responsibility for biodiversity, to hear her thoughts on the negotiations for COP21 that are currently underway. She emphasised that it was possible to make our environmental commitments even more robust by suggesting an even greater reduction in CO2 emissions: “By 2030, we believe that Europe could reduce emissions by half compared with 1990 levels, meet 40% of its energy consumption from renewable energy sources and make energy savings of 40%, particularly in the construction and transport sectors.”

You are the Committee of the Regions rapporteur for COP21. Could you lay out the Committee’s position on the current COP21 negotiations?

The Committee of the Regions wants an ambitious agreement that will truly pave the way to limiting a temperature rise between now and the end of the century to less than 2°C, and also wants to see a global drive towards recognising and strengthening the role of all stakeholders facing the challenge of climate change. At COP21 and afterwards, it is vital to recognise the role of the world’s regions and cities and to strengthen their ability to accelerate the action of states and private stakeholders. And this must be done without waiting for the new global agreement to come into force in 2020. This also means that, through the agreement to be reached in Paris, states will have to empower local and regional authorities to act, particularly those in the poorest countries. This is the role of the Green Fund established by the UN in 2011.

At COP21 and afterwards, it is vital to recognise the role of the world’s regions and cities and to strengthen their ability to accelerate the action of states and private stakeholders. And this must be done without waiting for the new global agreement to come into force in 2020.

The Committee of the Regions also thinks that it is possible to go beyond the targets set by the European Union in October 2014. The energy transition contains the ingredients for future job creation and prosperity. By 2030, we believe that Europe could reduce emissions by half compared with 1990 levels, meet 40% of its energy consumption from renewable energy sources and make energy savings of 40%, particularly in the construction and transport sectors.

Are your proposals realistic?

Local and regional authorities are on the front line of the fight against climate change. The proposals that we are making are based on observations we have made on the ground: that there is great potential in terms of renewable energy, building insulation, clean modes of transport, etc., as well as the associated employment opportunities. We are also faced with the growing need to adapt to the impact of climate change. We are ready to take action if the political, regulatory and financial framework allows us.

The two largest polluters, the United States and China, have been very reluctant with regard to the climate. What is the state of play in these countries? Do you think that their positions are changing?

In late 2014, the US and China concluded a bilateral agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, outside the UN framework. Some people think that this agreement is good news and that it shows that the two major global polluters have decided to tackle climate change. Others are of the opinion that this agreement gets in the way of the UN’s efforts, given its relatively limited scope. However, it is certainly the case that both countries have realised the economic advantages of the energy transition. That is why they are starting to act. They are now world leaders in renewable energy and have much to gain by going beyond what they have already announced. Europe should not appear to be lagging behind in this global context.

As regards China, however, we must stay alert and speak out against the impact of China’s industrial extraction of raw materials and hydroelectric projects on the rivers of the Tibetan plateau, particularly the Yamdrok Tso, a holy lake located between Lhassa and Shigatse. This dam could bring about one of the worst ecological disasters in China of the 21st century, jeopardising the region’s fragile equilibrium. Here and elsewhere, we must always aim to achieve consistency in public policies!

In July, there will be a conference on COP21 in Lyon. What message will you be taking to this meeting?

We want to show that local and regional action and experience is vitally important and is complementary to that of states. If the national and international framework allows it, we can start doing more right now to respond to the climate emergency. We also want to demonstrate to the countries that will meet in Paris in December that the energy transition is underway in the regions. It is now up to them to take note of this development and to accelerate it. Finally, it would be positive for local and regional authorities to announce robust and tangible climate commitments in Lyon, whether it be to reduce greenhouse gases, to save energy or to develop real solutions to the climate crisis, such as renewable energy.

We want to show that local and regional action and experience is vitally important and is complementary to that of states. If the national and international framework allows it, we can start doing more right now to respond to the climate emergency.

Finally, what would you recommend that our readers do in their daily lives to preserve the environment for future generations?

Everyone can act in their own way. To take energy suppliers as an example: there are currently many European countries where energy suppliers using 100% renewable energy have sprung up, independent of the large national energy companies. Choosing one of these energy suppliers is taking action that benefits the climate. Likewise, you can use your bike to get around more often. Indeed, 50% of journeys in urban areas in Europe are less than 5 km long. Another example: changing your diet and making sure to eat more local, seasonal food, and to eat less meat. That can be very beneficial, as much for the climate as for your budget and your health.