A summary of questions
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The Big Ask is about people across Europe questioning whether their governments are doing enough to tackle climate change. The campaign’s ‘Big Ask’ – or its big demand - is that European governments commit to binding annual targets for reducing emissions.
The Big Ask is engaging hundreds of thousands of people across Europe. People are being empowered to take action against climate change by making this demand to their politicians.
Eighteen Friends of the Earth groups have so far joined the campaign or are supporting its demands: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, EWNI (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
Friends of the Earth in the UK has been running a Big Ask campaign for the last three years. Through the Big Ask, almost 200,000 people contacted their MPs to demand a climate change law. This resulted in the groundbreaking climate change law - the first of its kind in the world - which will bind the current and future governments to reduce emissions on a year-on-year basis (averaged over five years).
These short term targets are significant because the UK Government has until now failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite having set long-term reduction targets. Friends of the Earth identified that annual targets were needed, to make each Government accountable and to prevent politicians from putting off taking action on climate change.
Thom Yorke has been an advocate of the Big Ask campaign in the UK since its launch and now supports the Europe-wide campaign.
Long-term targets are important to set Europe’s emission reduction path so that it does its share in the fight against climate change. But it is short-term targets which ensure that emissions cuts actually happen, across the EU and across sectors.
Short-term targets make today’s politicians accountable for fulfilling these targets and put pressure on them to actually deliver. Often politicians at national level avoid legislation to combat climate change as they are fearful of the impact on their own short-term political popularity or of short-term economic impacts. With annual targets they are committed to delivering within their period in government and cannot blame previous administrations for failures in reaching targets.
The Big Ask focuses on individuals taking politically targeted action against climate change. People are urging politicians to act across Europe – at the levels of both national government and the European Union.
The campaign is different in every country, but people can take action by visiting their local MPs, signing postcards and petitions and staging local actions. Friends of the Earth groups have organised concerts, exhibitions, and other events, and have worked with national celebrities to inform people about and engage people in the campaign.
Across Europe, Friends of the Earth is demanding that national governments commit to legally binding annual cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Many Friends of the Earth groups are demanding a Climate Change Law to enforce these annual emissions cuts. However, as the national political systems and contexts are different across Europe, not all groups are taking exactly the same approach. For example, Global 2000/Friends of the Earth Austria is also campaigning for their law to be embedded in the Austrian constitution. The grassroots structure of the Friends of the Earth network allows the campaign to be shaped to specific national circumstances.
The exact targets vary from one country to another depending on the reductions it has already achieved and its target for reducing emissions by 2020. For example, Friends of the Earth Netherlands is asking for a 30 percent reduction by 2020, whereas Friends of the Earth in the UK asks for 40 percent emission cuts by 2020, compared to 1990.
Our Big Ask is that EU member states make legally binding commitments to cut emissions year-on-year. These cuts should be equal to 40% reduction of EU-wide domestic emissions by 2020 and 100% by 2050.
As well as national laws committing governments to year-on-year emissions cuts, the Big Ask is demanding an EU-level mechanism that forces member states to make annual cuts. Friends of the Earth wants the European Commission to have the necessary tools to guarantee that Member States are really achieving annual emissions cuts.
There are two legislative proposals from the European Commission aimed at reducing the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. One is an amended directive about the European Emissions Trading Scheme  and the other is an ‘effort-sharing’ directive about how much each Member State will do to reduce their non-ETS emissions in order to reach the overall EU target .
Both of these proposals do introduce the idea of annual emissions reductions and predict a linear annual emission reduction path. But neither proposes a specific direct compliance and penalty provisions against Member States if they fail to deliver. The effort-sharing directive is particularly weak on enforcement and compliance. Under this proposal EU Member States are only required to report their progress towards their reduction targets.
Friends of the Earth is calling for these EU climate proposals to be amended so that the European Commission can use the strongest enforcement tools available to it, including direct penalties towards Member States. The reporting about emission reductions in the Member States should be speeded up and take place every year. An independent agency should be set up and could be in charge of compiling emission data from Member States, monitoring the advancements of the Member States towards their emission reduction targets, and it possibly could have the power to manage the fund raised by the direct penalty procedure proposed.
Why are you calling on both national governments and the European Union to take action? How do the two systems fit together?
A two-pronged approach is the most effective way to achieve legally binding annual cuts: the most progressive countries will lead the way and introduce Climate Change laws, then the EU will pressure less progressive countries to catch up.
The annual emission reduction targets set by the EU will provide direction for each country, then the national laws will set out the exact details of which measures that country will take to achieve its targets.
A country would be free to introduce national legislation going above and beyond its EU target, but would be penalised if it did not meet its EU target.
Under the Big Ask model, the European Commission would apply heavy fines to Member States that did not meet their annual targets for reducing their emissions.
Scientific evidence points to 40 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as necessary by 2020.
The EU has up until now only committed to unilaterally cut its emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and by 30 percent if other industrialised countries are willing to do the same, and if developing countries take on adequate responsibilities. The 20 percent lies well below the scientifically needed range of 25-40 percent emission reductions for industrialised countries that were supported by the EU and agreed at the United Nations climate talks in Bali in 2007. Even this may still lead to an increase in global temperatures of 2-2.4 degrees.
Setting off to cut emissions by 40 percent now will be economically beneficial in the long term and will create jobs and trigger technological development. The Stern Review from October 2006 estimates that dealing with the costs of climate change could be equivalent to 20% of GDP or more. In contrast, the costs of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year. In Europe, a 20% increase in energy efficiency would create about a million jobs. The same applies in emerging and developing countries. 
The term domestic cuts refers to emissions reductions that result from European governments actually taking steps within Europe to reduce their emissions, by improving energy efficiency and by using sustainable renewable energy sources.
Current EU proposals include the possibility of a very high number of climate projects outside the EU that both governments and industry will be allowed to use to offset their emissions. There is often insufficient guarantee that these projects will deliver the stated cuts. Also many overseas projects, for example within the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), have been strongly criticised by NGOs for causing harm locally to communities and the environment.
The Big Ask is calling for domestic emissions cuts that amount to 40% by 2020, instead of governments taking part in projects through e.g. the CDM and then ‘counting’ this as their own emissions reduction. Any external emission cuts should only be in addition to the 40% of domestic reduction and only be allowed if it is guaranteed that real emission cuts take place and guaranteed that the emissions reductions contribute to sustainable development and do not cause any social or environmental damage.
Scientific evidence is clearer than ever that urgent action needs to be taken to combat climate change. So far the European Union is not on track to meet the commitments it has made to reduce its emissions, for example, under the Kyoto Protocol. This shows we need a new approach to guarantee that emissions targets we set will actually be met.
The Big Ask approach will apply mass public pressure on politicians at a time when it is possible to make the cuts we need, if we start right now.
 Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on the effort of Member States to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Community’s greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments up to 2020
 UNEP study “Green Jobs: Can the Transition to Environmental Sustainability Spur New Kinds and Higher Levels of Employment?“ from December 2007: http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=523&ArticleID=5717&l=en/