Hurricane should make us reflect - commissioner


HURRICANE SANDY and the devastation it has caused in New York and along the eastern seaboard of the US “should make people reflect on the need for a greener economy”, European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard said yesterday.

On a visit to Dublin, Ms Hedegaard agreed that while the hurricane could not be definitively linked to global warming, “people must start to reflect on the coincidence between these events and what scientists have warned would happen”.

Speaking to The Irish Times, she said continuing with a “business as usual” approach was not an option, as this carried a “very big price tag – just ask the insurance industry in New York today”. Estimates of Sandy’s economic damage are put at $6 billion.

On her short visit to Dublin, the commissioner addressed PhD and master’s degree students from Trinity College and UCD’s Earth Institute and also held a meeting with a mixed group of “stakeholders” ranging from environmental groups to business lobby Ibec.

Ms Hedegaard said there was “huge cost in doing nothing” about climate change, as evidenced by the EU’s heavy dependence on fossil fuels.

“Europe’s oil imports last year cost us €315 million, compared to our combined trade deficit on €150 million.” She declined to blame the US for the “frustratingly slow” progress made by UN climate negotiations, which will resume in Doha, Qatar, late next month. “We can all do things in own regions, but we need to have a global framework. I can’t see an alternative.”

Since the chaotic Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, Ms Hedegaard said, “many of the bricks of the future architecture” of such a framework had already been laid down, including the new Green Climate Fund and progress on technology transfer to developing countries.

At Doha, she is hoping for a renewal of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of this year – but this time without any distinction between developed and major developing countries, and also a renewed focus on the “ambition gap” in cutting emissions.

Although much of the world was “busy handling the economic crisis”, the commissioner said taking action “doesn’t prevent us having economic development” – as shown by China’s interest in renewable energy and Saudi Arabia now looking seriously at solar power.

Asked about the European Commission’s new policy on biofuels, she said a “freeze” at the current consumption level of 5 per cent in the use of crops that could provide food was “a substantial step forward because it means that this sector can’t continue to expand”.