EU warned: The global clean tech train is leaving the station


As international climate change talks get underway in Mexico, EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard last week re-emphasized the case for the EU to commit to bolder greenhouse gas emissions cuts - a belief shared by several of the EU's progressive businesses.

She urged EU businesses and policy-makers to drive low carbon investment in Europe: "those in the end who improve energy efficiency and improve innovation," she said, "they will save money". She warned that companies who did not, risked being overtaken by Chinese competitors.

Earlier this year, 30 European companies called on the EU to increase its greenhouse gas emissions target to 30 per cent by 2020 from 1990 levels in the interests of strengthening Europe's economic future, boosting jobs and competitiveness and providing greater certainty and predictability for investors.

Alain Grisay, CEO of F&C Asset Management said at the time: "A 30 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target sends an unambiguous message that will mobilize capital and spur real growth in the low carbon economy". Ian Cheshire, Group CEO Kingfisher plc also said "a 30 per cent target will be good for the EU economy and it's good for the future sustainability of business".

Evidence supporting Europe's 'green growth' opportunity is mounting. The value of the global market in low carbon goods and services is already over £3 trillion and growing at four per cent per year, faster than world GDP. Chris Huhne, the UK's Secretary of State of Energy and Climate Change said recently "in budgetary hard times, growth like this is hard to come by. And it is even harder to ignore".

Emerging economies are not ignoring this opportunity with countries such as China, South Korea and Mexico taking the lead in new clean energy technology and infrastructure investment. A report by Ernst & Young says that in the second quarter of 2010, China spent $10bn on wind energy alone; around half the global total. 

The global clean tech train is leaving the station and EU already risks getting left behind.

There has been a marked slump in clean energy investment in Europe with venture capital funds falling 73 per cent in the last quarter, the lowest level for two years. The fear of losing out in this low carbon race has prompted Europe's biggest private equity and venture capital industry association (EVCA) to plea for governments to take stronger action. "Without the right regulatory framework to significantly scale up investment, Europe risks not only missing crucial low-carbon targets but an immense opportunity to become a global powerhouse in a vast new energy economy" says the EVCA's Patrick Sheehan.

The economic case for greater climate ambition is becoming clear to Europe's progressive businesses who need the EU to remain a global leader in the low carbon economy. In turn, a higher EU target will send a strong policy signal needed to ignite Europe's clean industrial revolution.  As a global pace-maker on climate change, it would be a shame for Europe to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and lose out on millions of high value-added green jobs to other parts of the world.

To support our joint Joint Business Declaration to increase Europe's greenhouse gas emissions target to 30 per cent - an initiative led by The Climate Group, The Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, and WWF Climate Savers Programme - please contact Luc Bas [email protected]

Madeleine Cobb is policy manager at green business think tank The Climate Group

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