After long negotiations, MEPs voted on Tuesday (6 October) in favour of further increasing the bloc’s emissions target to 60% by 2030. In a double-interview with EURACTIV Germany, two German MEPs discuss what this could mean for the EU and Germany, as well as how the new target could be achieved.
MEP Andreas Glück is the environmental policy spokesman for the FDP delegation in the European Parliament and a member of the Environment Committee (ENVI). MEP Michael Bloss is the shadow rapporteur of the Greens/EFA group for the climate law in the ENVI Committee.
As of this morning we know the final result of the EU climate law. It stipulates that the EU should commit to a 60% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. Mr Glück, what does your group and what do you personally think of this?
Glück: The Renew Europe Group is not united on the issue. A majority is in favour of a 60% [reduction target], but others say it is too much. The FDP delegation and I think we should set ourselves targets that are realistic and achievable. I am therefore in favour of 55%.
Now the question of burden sharing arises. Should we renegotiate it and get some member states to contribute more to climate protection? What do you think, Mr Bloss?
Bloss: We will also have to talk about burden sharing, yes. But I think there will be less focus on member states than on sectors. We must reach for the low hanging fruit and quickly phase out CO2 emissions where it is easiest to do so. In other words: quickly phase out coal.
Glück: I think it is in itself okay to say that everyone contributes differently to a common goal based on their capabilities. But there are countries that have so far had to contribute practically zero percent in burden sharing. In addition, Germany is Europe’s innovation driver. And it is in nobody’s interest for Germany to ‘fall flat on its face’. So there can be no purely proportional extrapolation.
Speaking to the Environment Committee, Commissioner Frans Timmermans recently said that the EU must first set itself a new target, regardless of political details. Do you agree Mr Bloss with this notion that first the goal should be set and one should examine how it can be achieved?
Bloss: I think what Mr Timmermans meant by that was that we should not immediately try to negotiate how much industry, the energy sector, the car industry or even each individual member state should contribute to our climate target.
This kind of debate would be too complicated and unrealistic at this stage. What is important is that we first take action. For we have committed ourselves, within the framework of international agreements, to announce an increase in the target this year.
According to the Paris [Climate] Agreement, we must ensure that global warming is below two degrees this year. The EU has a central role to play in this. The next chance for an increased climate target is five years away. It is therefore very important to take legally binding decisions now [editor’s note: according to the Paris Accord’s roadmap, signatories submit revised climate targets every five years].
But the objection of many critics that there is no point in setting new climate targets and then not achieving them is quite justified, isn’t it?
Bloss: I do not think that will happen. If you look at the Commission’s Impact Assessment for the Climate Law, you will see that the most ambitious scenario there is 57.8 %. And even in this scenario, only mediocre efforts are envisaged in the transport and energy sectors. So 60% is very realistically feasible. This is also supported by studies such as the one conducted by the German Institute for Economic Research.
Glück: Of course, path and goal must go hand in hand. When I plan to climb Mount Everest, I plan time, train and do altitude training. What I mean to say is that you cannot set yourself a goal without a realistic consideration of how to achieve it. If we end up having conflicting goals and objectives, we will have gained nothing, but will lose our industry abroad and control over our emissions – the key word being carbon leakage.
And the best way to achieve the target, in the view of your group, is to have European CO2 certificate trading (EU ETS), Mr Glück?
Glück: Yes, I think a sectoral breakdown is very difficult in any case. On the other hand, the ETS is a clear success model which has proven that it works. The sectors included in the ETS – heavy industry and energy – are meeting their interim targets, while other sectors are struggling. We should therefore urgently expand certificate trading.
Then we can also drastically reduce the quantity of certificates issued – on this point Mr Bloss and I are bound to agree.
Mr Bloss, does an extension of the EU ETS make sense? What about road transport, which the Liberals would also like to see in the emissions trading scheme? Do you see this as an alternative to fleet limits?
Bloss: No, that does not make sense. After all, the avoidance costs for a tonne of CO2 in the transport sector are more than €100, or rather €200, while it is about €40 in the energy sector. So, we cannot possibly apply the same price in all sectors.
As for the fleet limits, even VW says they are feasible. What is important is that our car industry is positioned in such a way that we can still sell cars to Asia by 2030. Everything in that region has long been moving in the direction of electromobility. So far, the fleet limits have worked wonderfully, because they make companies take responsibility. If we resort to CO2 certificates, we simply make petrol more expensive and put a burden on consumers. This is not a good idea for climate policy.
Glück: it is true that prices with a steering effect vary greatly between sectors. So we are welcome to talk about conversion factors depending on the sector. Nevertheless, we need flexibility between sectors to keep the mitigation costs as low as possible. Moreover, the EU ETS is clearly superior to regulatory law because it offers real volume control. We have a cap, which means we limit the total amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted. Everything else is a shot in the dark. We do not know how many cars will be sold in the future.
In the coming years, some companies will have to make investments in completely new technologies such as green steel production. How can we give them planning security if we tighten our climate targets every few years?
Glück: For one thing, we need technology neutrality. Because what counts is the carbon footprint of a product over its entire life cycle. But I personally have a lot of hope in hydrogen and I think that the Commission’s strategy opens up good avenues for this. The combination of these two elements, i.e. openness to technology and an ambitious hydrogen strategy, offers industry a great deal of encouragement to get involved in these areas.
Bloss: I agree with you, Mr Glück, on the overall view of the life cycle. But we should be careful with hydrogen and use it only where there is no cheaper alternative. This is the case with steel production, for example. Large quantities of hydrogen will be needed there. This can be financed, for example, through contracts where we cover the price difference to conventional steel. A carbon border tax or mandatory quotas for green steel can also provide the necessary framework for industry to invest accordingly.
The Commission is already working on a carbon border tax, but it is considered controversial and difficult to implement. Europe is already being accused of protectionism. Can this harm Germany as an exporting country?
Bloss: Looking at the carbon footprint of a product could bring completely new dynamics to world trade. But we must not forget that the EU is still the world’ s largest single market. Taxation of CO2-intensive steel from China, for example, could certainly be an incentive to restructure steel production there too.
Glück: I also think this is an exciting opportunity, even if it will be difficult to find a WTO-compatible arrangement. My suggestion would therefore be to start by gaining experience in a niche area such as in the case of cement, for example, of which we import small quantities into the EU. The nice thing is that the ETS and a border adjustment mechanism can be combined. This can be a clear invitation for third countries that do not want to pay a border tax to join the ETS. After all, it could easily be extended beyond Europe’s borders.
Bloss: On the subject of trying out border taxes, I do agree with you Mr Glück, but not on the issue of ETS. International carbon trading does not yet exist and is still outstanding in the Paris Climate Agreement. We cannot rely on that.