Emissions trading and the sound of silence

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Progress has been hampered by the busy schedule of the Maltese EU Presidency and further steps may have to wait until the Estonians take over. [Shutterstock]

MEP Ian Duncan was looking forward to a well-earned rest after earning the European Parliament’s endorsement of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme reform. The European Council looked like it would take its time to agree with it but just two weeks after, as if by magic, it was game on!

Ian Duncan is a British MEP with the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR) and is rapporteur on the ETS reform.

The European Parliament settled its position on reform of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme on 15 February. It had been quite a slog to get the Parliament’s endorsement, and since the Council had shown no signs of reaching agreement on their position, I was looking forward to kicking back a little, putting my feet up, taking a breather.

Then suddenly, as if by magic, less than two weeks later, the Council pulled a ‘general approach’ from its hat. Time to go back to work!

The Council position was bold. It proposed writing off a significant number of excess allowances, certainly more than the Parliament had considered possible. Council envisaged the cancellation beginning in 2024, once certain thresholds have been reached.

By contrast, the Parliament was keen for upfront cancellation of allowances. In truth there were a number of commonalities between the two sides, and I expected the trilogues to make significant and swift progress. Commissioner Arias Cañete agreed. Indeed he anticipated the law being done and dusted during the Maltese Council Presidency.

So, given that the eureka moment occurred in February, you might legitimately ask, what progress has been made? The sad and slightly surprising truth is not as much as we might have hoped for.

In order for there to be a meeting of minds there must first be a meeting. Literally. Trying to secure dates in the Maltese diary has proven to be devilishly difficult.

The kick-off trilogue – which allowed for little more than introductory remarks – took place on 4 April. Despite the Parliament’s best efforts, the next trilogue will not take place until 30 May. And at the moment that is the only trilogue in the diary before the Estonian Presidency takes over on 1 July 2017.

We have been able to schedule two technical meetings to address a number of practical issues; dynamic allocation, benchmarks, ProdCom, qualitative assessment all featured in the first discussion. Another meeting is scheduled for 4 May, when further progress is expected.

However, as to the big political questions, of ambition, of carbon leakage and the functionality of the supporting funds, progress must await 30 May. Well, almost.

While the Parliament has proposed a meaty agenda for this political trilogue, the Maltese Presidency has yet to respond. If the Maltese accept the Parliament’s agenda, then we can begin to determine the shape of the reformed ETS.

If they don’t, perhaps we should just wait for the Estonians to take over the presidential reins. The clock is ticking.