The Green Brief: EU divisions loom over climate policy

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With the EU’s new climate law passing in the European Parliament last week, there is now no doubt about whether lawmakers see the need to tackle climate change.

The remaining question is how Europe will achieve that, a debate that has seen lawmakers scurry back to their political roots.

Despite a broad political consensus in the European Parliament to declare a climate emergency, there is far more contention when it comes to actually doing something about it.

“When you look at the different amendments and votes, we see that there is a great consensus and that something radical has to be done. But if facnfiwe look beneath the surface, we see a certain division of how. The main lines, the main principles – here the consensus seems to be breaking up,” warned Nils Torvalds, a Finnish MEP from the centrist Renew Europe political group.

The first big test of that consensus will come on 14 July when the European Commission tables its “Fit for 55” package of legislation aimed at cutting emissions by 55% on 1990 levels by 2030.

There are two traditional divides in the European Parliament, one along party lines and another along national lines. The ‘Fit for 55’ package promises to split lawmakers on both.

The twelve proposals in the package are meant to work together, according to the European Commission. In that sense, it is no different from its predecessor, the Clean Energy Package, put forward under the previous Commission.

From that perspective, lawmakers should therefore approach it as a package, with a broad helicopter view. That would require a lot of cross-party communication.

Alternatively, the twelve files in the proposal could be tackled individually – something that could sprout odd coalitions. For instance, centre and right-wing lawmakers will likely oppose overly stringent rules on CO2 emissions from cars and could see support from Socialist and Democrat MEPs from car making countries, like France and Italy.

“You will find some people, mostly on the centre and the right of the political spectrum, who will say that goes too far, that will disrupt the car making industry,” Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, director of the Jacques Delors Energy Centre told EURACTIV.

“In that group, you will also find some social democrats, especially coming from countries where the car lobby is extremely important.”

According to Pellerin-Carlin, the opposite is likely when it comes to the possible extension of the EU carbon market to buildings and road transport. The left and centre of the European Parliament are concerned that this will saddle the poorest with increasing fuel bills and give rise to a Yellow Vest-esque movement.

“I do think it is a real political mistake, the whole thing. That’s why I hope they will not do it,” French MEP Pascal Canfin, who chairs the Parliament’s environment committee, said at a recent EURACTIV debate.

However, the extension of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to buildings and transport has support from those on the centre-right – particularly Germany’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU), the party of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“We want to use market-based measures, like the ETS. We don’t want to regulate every detail in the European Union. The creativity of people and the best solution should be found with a system like the ETS and not with mainly regulation,” said Peter Liese from the centre-right European People’s Party.

Ultimately, this age-old left-right debate between those in favour of market forces and those in favour of regulation will likely end in a compromise. The question, from a climate perspective, is how far concessions can go for Europe to stay on track for its 2030 decarbonisation goals.

– By Kira Taylor

 

Top stories

 

This week’s stories

 

News from the capitals

SOFIA | ATHENS. Investigation launched into Bulgaria-Greece gas pipeline. The State Agency for National Security (SANS) has launched an investigation into the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) after receiving a tip-off from the leader of pro-Russian party ABV, Rumen Petkov about alleged irregularities. Read more.

PARIS. France to increase its renewable energy production to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This month, Réseau Transport Electricité (RTE) published the study “Energy Futures 2050”, which describes six scenarios presenting different strategies if France wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, with an increase in renewable energy production being a focal point of the study. Read more.

PARIS. France to receive €39.4 billion from Brussels for its recovery plan. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Wednesday to announce her approval of the country’s national recovery and resilience plan. France will be granted €39.4 billion under the Recovery and Resilience Facility aimed to aid member states recovery from the economic impact of the pandemic. (Mathieu Pollet | EURACTIV.fr)

LJUBLJANA. Slovenia issues first green bond. Slovenia has issued its first sustainability bond, becoming the first central or east European country and only the second EU member state to do so. The €1 billion issue was far oversubscribed. Read more.

 

News in brief

Report: five countries’ plans for new coal plants could endanger global decarbonisation. China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam are planning to build more than 600 new coal units despite the need to phase out the fossil fuel, according to a new report by the think tank Carbon Tracker.

The five countries are responsible for 80% of the world’s planned coal plants and 92% of these will become uneconomic, wasting up to $150 billion, the think tank warns. It argues these could be replaced with renewables with an immediate cost-saving and that, by 2026, building and operating new renewables will be cheaper than the running costs of almost all global coal capacity.

The report also evaluated 6,000 coal plants globally. It found that, in Germany, renewables already outperform coal on a cost basis while in Poland around half of coal capacity is already unprofitable. Read the full report here. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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Push to recognise ‘ecocide’ as an international crime. A draft definition of ecocide – the mass damage or destruction of ecosystems – has been drawn up by the Stop Ecocide Coalition, which wants to make it the fifth international crime, alongside genocide and crimes against humanity. According to the definition, “‘ecocide’ means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”.

“We have no choice: we have to condemn those crimes that are committed in one place but put at risk the survival of the entire humanity and of many ecosystems,” said Sirpa Pietikäinen, Member of the Ecocide Alliance and MEP for the European People’s Party. Speaking to EURACTIV, she said that ecocide should be included in the updated European treaties or in the EU environmental crime directive.

A climate rally at the European Council summit on Thursday also called for ecocide to be recognised as a crime in EU legislation. The European Parliament has already recommended looking into how ecocide can be recognised in EU law. Read more. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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Brussels approves €500 million German scheme for electric vehicle charging points. The European Commission has approved a German scheme to support investments in publicly accessible recharging infrastructure. The funding for the scheme will partly come from Germany’s share of the recovery money and will support the installation of new fast and standard charging points as well as their connection to the grid and the upgrading or replacement of existing charging points. More.

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European Commission green lights gas storage regulation in France. The gas storage regulatory mechanism implemented in France since 2017 complies with state aid rules, the EU executive has concluded, saying it contributes to the security and diversification of the French energy supply without unduly distorting competition. The Commission had opened an investigation into it in February 2020.

Following an in-depth investigation, the Commission has concluded that the mechanism for regulating natural gas storage in France is in compliance with the rules. of the EU in the field of state aid. In particular, the measure is necessary and proportionate to ensure the security of energy supply for citizens and businesses, while also ensuring that any distortions of competition are reduced as much as possible,” said Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for Competition Policy. Read more.

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Restoring degraded ecosystems can double nature’s contribution to the EU economy and society, says Commission. The European Commission published a report analysing the benefits that forests, rivers, grasslands and wetlands provide, particularly that restoring these can double nature’s contribution to the European economy and society.

Environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “Healthy, thriving and resilient nature is at the core of our quality of life, thriving economies and resilient societies. Nature provides our food, filters our air and water, regulates our climate and protects us from heatwaves and flooding. Losing these essential services would create unprecedented threats to our health, economies and societies.” The report is available here.

 

Opinions

 

Upcoming events

7 JULY. Media Partnership: charting pathways to enable net zero – what role for hydrogen? With a keynote address from the EU Commissioner for Transport, Adina Valean, and chair of the energy committee in the European Parliament, Cristian Busoi, join this debate to look at how hydrogen can help Europe reach its climate goals. Programme and registration here. (Organised by Hydrogen4EU)

22 JULY. #eaGreenEU Twitter chat | Forestry and climate change. Join EURACTIV’s energy and environment journalists for a live discussion on the role of forestry and climate change in the EU. Find more information, including how you can join, here. (Supported by Life Terra)

 

On our radar

12 JULY: Third round of negotiations on Aarhus regulation. Negotiators from the European Parliament and EU Council will meet again with the European Commission to discuss the access to justice legislation. The meeting is expected to be open-ended and run into the night as Europe faces a looming deadline of October 2021 to improve its implementation of the international agreement.

14 JULY: Fit for 55 package. The European Commission is expected to table a huge package of green legislation in July, including a revision of the renewable energy directive, a revision of the emissions trading scheme and our first glimpse at a carbon border adjustment mechanism.

20 JULY: EU forest strategy. The European Commission is due to release its plan for Europe’s forests in late July.

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