MEP Canfin: EU countries must face sanctions for non-compliance with climate goals

The European Parliament has proposed the creation of a European Council on Climate Change (ECCC) whose mission will be to determine whether or not EU policies are aligned with the Union’s climate objectives. [© European Union 2020 - Source : EP]

As negotiations on the EU’s proposed climate law enter the home straight, Pascal Canfin highlights the European Parliament’s red lines in talks with EU member states.

Pascal Canfin is a French MEP for the centrist Renew Europe group in the European Parliament, where he chairs the assembly’s environment committee (ENVI). He spoke to EURACTIV’s energy and environment editor, Frédéric Simon (original interview in French available here).

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Parliament enters negotiations on the EU climate law with the following proposals:
    • Sanctions of €100 per excess tonne of CO2 emitted for countries whose emissions go above an agreed emissions target
    • A European carbon budget to verify whether the EU and its member states are on the right track
    • The creation of a European Council on Climate Change to determine whether EU policies are aligned with the bloc’s climate objectives
  • On Poland’s threat to veto the EU’s 2030 climate target, Canfin says “Plan B” is to move the issue back to qualified majority voting under the climate law

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This week marks the first year in office of the von der Leyen Commission. What is your assessment so far?

The publication of the Green Deal last December was a game-changer at the EU level in the sense that there is now a before and an after.

Ursula von der Leyen managed to present the Green Deal in a strategic way while being sufficiently precise on certain points such as the upgrading of Europe’s climate objectives for 2030. In terms of political leadership, it is really a success, which I often cite as an example to political leaders at the national level.

The second success was to make the Green Deal a political project which is not purely sectoral but crosses multiple sectors such as green finance, agriculture, energy, housing and transportation.

Finally, the third element of the Green Deal’s success is linked to the European recovery plan. There was a real risk in the spring that the Green Deal would be deprioritised but this is clearly not the case: the European recovery plan is now considered to be the greenest in the world.

So one year later, Europe has shown it was ready to come up to the mark on the Green Deal, even if there are still a lot of things to be played out in the second year, for example, the reform of the common agricultural policy.

Negotiations on the European climate law have started this week between the European Parliament and the member states. What are the main sticking points in this negotiation?

We are not yet talking about sticking points because the negotiations have only just started. For now, I just want to stress that the climate law cannot be reduced to the 2030 target, which tends to monopolise all the attention.

The climate law, as we see it in Parliament, must be a game-changer in the way we approach the consistency of all public policies with climate issues.

In Parliament, for example, we introduced an amendment according to which all future European Commission proposals must be aligned with the Union’s climate objectives.

Other amendments are meant to strengthen the consistency and credibility of EU climate policies – for example, the alignment of financial flows, the introduction of a carbon budget at European level, sanctions for non-compliance with the EU’s objectives or the creation of an independent body of scientific advisors on climate change which is largely inspired by what is done in France or the United Kingdom.

With these amendments, the European Parliament has considerably strengthened the credibility and consistency of the climate law. We therefore come to this negotiation with two main objectives: first, making all public policies consistent with the Green Deal, and credibility.

These are all elements that cannot be found in the Council’s position, which suggests negotiations will inevitably be difficult. But I think we have public opinion behind us on the climate issue.

You spoke about penalties for non-compliance with climate objectives. What is the Parliament’s proposal on this subject?

When a country does not follow the set CO2 emissions trajectory, the question is what happens. In the version of the climate law that we support in Parliament, the country in question must pay for the excess carbon emitted at a level that we have set at 100 euros per tonne.

Why 100 euros per tonne? Because it is also the penalty foreseen for companies whose emissions are covered by the EU carbon market. There is no reason why this mechanism shouldn’t apply also to EU member states, it’s a matter of consistency.

Environmentalists, notably Greta Thunberg, have criticised the European climate law for two reasons: because it does not define a carbon budget at European level and because it does not stipulate the creation of a committee of scientific experts to assess the conformity of EU policies with climate objectives. On these two points, what are your proposals?

On the first point, Parliament is proposing the creation of a European carbon budget which will make it possible to verify that the reduction in CO2 emissions is in line with this budget.

But let’s face it, setting a carbon budget is politically complicated.

It is for this reason that we have introduced the creation of a European Council on Climate Change whose mission will be to objectify the evaluation of European public policies and to determine whether or not they are aligned with the Union’s climate objectives.

I want to clarify, and this is very important, that it is out of the question for us that this European Council on Climate Change will replace the IPCC by producing any scientific analysis of the same type. We do not in any way want to fragment the IPCC by creating a sort of duplicate at European level. Because, behind that, we would then have a Chinese IPCC and an American IPCC and that is exactly the opposite of what we want in the European Parliament. It’s a total red line.

Our intention is to create an independent institution which assesses European public policies to determine whether they are sufficient or not to achieve the Union’s climate objectives. And this analysis will be based on a carbon budget, itself based on data provided by the IPCC.

Greta Thunberg considers the 60% emissions reduction target voted by the European Parliament for 2030 as “a vague long-term objective”. I do not share this criticism at all, because the 60% target is the highest ever voted by an EU institution and is aligned with the recommendations of scientists.

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The European Council is meeting next week to thrash out an agreement on the EU’s 2030 climate target which will be inserted into the climate law. Poland is still reluctant to adopt this objective, calling for more funding or, failing that, more leeway to finance the replacement of its coal-fired power stations with gas and nuclear. What solution do you see from this standoff?

The climate discussion comes to the Council in a context of tensions over the EU budget and its link with the rule of law, subjects on which I will not comment today. But obviously, this context exists and it influences the debate on the climate objectives for 2030.

From the start, I have defended the idea that, if there is a climate law that is voted by qualified majority, it is precisely so that these subjects can be removed from unanimity in the Council. And one of the added values ​​of the climate law is precisely to bring these questions to a qualified majority so as not to be dependent on the veto right of a given country.

I therefore regret that the German Presidency has chosen for the moment to remain a prisoner of the right of veto on climate issues. On the contrary, climate law offers a very good opportunity to progress towards a qualified majority on these subjects. Moving in this direction would also be in step with history.

Politically though, it would be a risky move…

I understand why Charles Michel and the German EU Presidency have chosen to deal with these issues by unanimity. But, they put themselves in a situation where they are now facing a potential Polish veto.

If this scenario persists, we will have to find a plan B. And this plan B is the return to the climate law and the passage to a qualified majority.

A Polish veto on the eve of the anniversary of the Paris Agreement would be dramatic for Europe. And for the Polish government too, because it would risk losing its influence by forcing the other member states to move to a qualified majority.

I am the first to admit it: Poland has a specific starting point with an electricity mix based 80% on coal. This is why they are being asked to make greater efforts than others, and it is therefore normal that they should receive more support as well.

As for EU support, I agree: we must be able to put all subjects on the table – be it the just transition fund or the modernisation fund in the context of the reform of the European carbon market.

On the other hand, the Poles cannot ask Europeans to contribute significantly to the financing of their energy transition if they themselves block the objective. There can be no transition funding without transition, these are two sides of the same coin.

I hope that reason will prevail on December 11 and that Poland will support the minimum target of at least 55% knowing that Parliament is ready to go further, to 60%. If Warsaw places its veto, it would be a losing scenario for Europe but also a losing one for Poland.

Warsaw says 'further analysis needed' before EU's 2030 climate target can be agreed

Further analysis into the impact of tougher climate goals on EU member states is needed before Poland can sign up to the European Commission’s proposed 55% greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030, a senior Polish minister has said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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