Europe must look for ways of incorporating the carbon content of imported products while avoiding import dependence on key technologies for the energy transition, said Maros Šefčovič, the European Commission’s Vice-President in charge of the Energy Union.
Speaking on Monday (24 June), Šefčovič said energy security was one of his chief concerns during his five-year mandate at the Commission, which expires on 31 October.
But as Europe gradually abandons fossil fuels in favour of clean energy, it must avoid falling into another trap linked to raw materials and technological dependence, he warned.
“I think we have to be pretty focused on ensuring that we do not substitute our energy dependence with some kind of technological dependence or raw materials dependence,” he told participants at the Brussels launch of BloombergNEF’s New Energy Outlook.
Europe has to be “very vigilant” and avoid “repeating the same mistakes when it comes to batteries, electric vehicles, electric buses or hydrogen technologies which, I agree, will probably be key to zero-carbon heavy-duty vehicles,” he said.
Taking the automotive sector as an example, Šefčovič explained that Europe’s industrial success in the coming decade “will depend very much on energy storage and smart grids”, but he also cautioned against import dependence for the car sector.
The Slovak Commissioner already warned last year about looming import dependency on lithium, cobalt, copper and other raw materials that are used in green technologies such as wind turbines or electric car batteries.
The European Commission is promoting lithium refining, for instance, as part of a broader strategic push to develop a battery manufacturing value-chain inside Europe and decrease dependence on Asian imports of battery cells.
Looking forward to the energy challenges facing the next European Commission, Šefčovič listed two main ones.
“The first task for future EU policymakers is how to include carbon content, or carbon intensity, into trade deals and policies,” he said, calling for an agreement on measuring the carbon intensity of products imported into Europe.
The idea is not new and echoes an appeal by French President Emmanuel Macron to introduce a carbon tariff at the EU’s border in order to restore a level playing field with countries like China or the US, which do not impose a CO2 pollution constraint on their industries.
“The second issue is the social one,” and the risk that industrial restructuring leads to rising unemployment in Europe. “I think we need to do even more in the future when it comes to social measures” related to the energy transition, Šefčovič said.
Through energy efficiency measures or specific EU funding, Europe can tackle energy poverty, and help coal-dependent regions find “a new economic future,” he pointed out.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of the transition,” the Slovak Commissioner said, calling on regions to work together at the European level to manage the energy transition.
“The biggest treasure we have in Europe is that public opinion is with us” on climate policy, Šefčovič remarked, saying climate and environmental issues were among the key areas of concern for voters at the European elections held in May.
The Slovak Commissioner also highlighted the economic benefits of the energy transition. He pointed to long-term EU projections for 2050 indicating that moving to net-zero emissions will bring “millions of new jobs” in Europe while slashing the EU’s fossil fuel import bill by €2-3 trillion between 2030 and 2050.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]