Has Europe Been Greenwashing All This Time?

We've seen Europe beat us to the punch on a number of actions to combat climate change. But the continent's shining eco reputation may not be so green after all.

Europe enacted the carbon cap-and-trade system long before Obama warmed to it. They've been tough on fuel standards for years. And countries like Denmark are leaders in offshore wind power while Americans continue to bicker about how to get energy to the grid and homeowners gripe about turbines in their pristine ocean views. But as EU voters head to the polls next week, there are cracks in the continent's evironmental portfolio.

The continent's fuel standards have been weakened from the ambitious targets that environmental groups wanted as governments compromise with powerful automakers and the recession. The European Federation for Transport and Environment wants Europe to cut its car CO2 emissions to 80g/km by 2020, but the EU already lowered the target for the next several years from 120g/km to 130g/km.  

Cap-and-trade has its critics too. While a prominent report out this year said that the system has reduced emissions, some of the E.U.'s newest member states like Latvia and Estonia have complained their carbon cap is too low and stifles their economies. If that thinking carries into next week's election, it could have serious consequences for the commitment to the planet in Parliament. 

The election stakes are doubtlessly high. We've heard about what calamities will strike if we do nothing to mitigate global warming, but now the early signs of disaster are starting to roll in.

The Global Humanitarian Forum, an organization led by former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, released a report this week that blames global warming for 300,000 deaths and $125 billion in economic losses annually, mostly though exacerbated floods and droughts that worsen disease transmission and hunger.

Certainly, the report's numbers are estimates--even panel members like Columbia University's Jeffrey Sachs acknowledge that. But the E.U. elections next week, along with climate path the Obama administration takes, will go a long way in deciding whether those numbers get better or worse in the future. 

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