Revolt brewing against EU’s ‘unrealistic’ climate goals

EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said a planned Just Transition Fund could reach the "three digit area" in order to win over reluctant EU countries. [European Union, 2019 Source: EC - Audiovisual Service]

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has threatened to veto Europe’s goal of becoming the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050, adding his voice to a growing chorus of discontent as EU leaders prepare for heated climate discussions at a summit in Brussels next week.

In a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Babiš said, however, he could still change his mind in exchange for higher financial support from the EU and better investment conditions for nuclear energy.

Private investors are reluctant to pour money into new nuclear power plants, which face escalating costs and growing competition from cheap renewables. New plants are dependent on state support, which require prior approval by the European Commission’s powerful competition department.

“Nuclear plants construction may require changes in the state aid rules,” Babiš wrote in the letter, according to Czech daily Hospodářské noviny, a media partner of EURACTIV.cz.

Funding for new nuclear plants is also an issue for Poland, one of the last remaining EU countries opposed to the bloc’s proposed climate neutrality objective for 2050. At the last EU summit in October, Warsaw called for “significantly larger” amounts of funding under the EU’s next long-term budget before signing up to the 2050 goal.

Poland wants fresh EU money to back climate neutrality goal

Achieving climate neutrality requires “significantly larger” amounts of funding than what is currently on offer in the EU’s long-term budget proposal for 2021-2027, Warsaw said in a memo circulated ahead of an EU leaders’ summit opening today.

There is resistance at regional level too. During an exchange of views on Thursday (5 December) with Frans Timmermans, the EU Commission vice-president in charge of the European Green Deal, local representatives warned against adopting “unrealistic” climate objectives for 2030.

The 50-55% cut in greenhouse gases envisaged by the new European Commission risked hurting local businesses, said Cor Lamers, a Dutch Mayor who chairs the environment commission at the Committee of the Regions, an EU consultative body.

Timmermans answered with a stark warning.

“We are in a climate emergency,” the Dutchman replied, saying climate change was “like a comet” threatening to hit the earth in 30 years’ time. “It’s not just nice to do, we need to do it,” he said, urging businesses to adapt.

“By the way, most businesses absolutely understand this,” Timmermans added, saying the sense of urgency, especially among big businesses, was higher than in politics.

“‘Realistic’ is that we have a climate crisis. ‘Realistic’ is that if we don’t belong to the early adopters, the pace will be dictated by other continents” and leave Europe dependent on technologies imported from China and elsewhere, Timmermans warned.

“Three-digit” Just Transition Fund

A planned Just Transition Fund aimed at helping regions most affected by the energy transition is considered instrumental to convince reluctant member states to sign up to the 2050 goal.

A Commission proposal to establish the fund, initially expected before next week’s EU summit, was delayed until January, raising doubts that a deal on the 2050 objective can be reached in December.

But Timmermans suggested the fund could be boosted considerably in order to win over Poland and the Czech Republic, possibly reaching the “three-digit area,” he told a press briefing on Thursday (5 December).

Revolt, meanwhile, is also brewing in the banking sector, where the European Commission is pushing a sustainable finance agenda, including a hotly-debated classification taxonomy aimed at rewarding investments into clean technologies.

“Solvent and profitable banks” are a prerequisite for green lending, said José Manuel Campa, chairman of the European Banking Authority, in charge of banking regulation.

“If lending to that ‘green’ part of the economy is of a certain risk, banks need adequate capital provisions for those risks,” Campa told EURACTIV in an interview, dealing a potential blow to Commission plans to support green finance.

EU banking regulator: 'No green economy if we encourage banks to be insolvent'

Europe wants to use all the tools available to transit toward a ‘green’ economy. But ‘green’ lending should not be incentivised by easing capital requirements for banks, the European Banking Authority chief, Jose Manuel Campa, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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