The Green Brief: International summit blues

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The G7 summit in Cornwall had all the attributes of international summitry: big expectations, lots of media attention, grand statements, and little in the way of actual results.

Although short on substance, the summit’s 25-page final communiqué reiterated the commitment by G7 leaders to reaching net-zero emissions “no later than 2050” and to “halving our collective emissions over the two decades to 2030” on a 2010 baseline.

Green activists will also welcome a commitment “to conserve or protect at least 30% of our land and oceans by 2030.”

There were glaring shortcomings as well though, notably on climate finance, with G7 governments failing again on their longstanding pledge to deliver $100 billion per year to developing countries.

This could prove a deal-breaker when world leaders meet at the COP26 UN climate summit later this year. “G7 Leaders made some credible progress on climate action but failed to back this up with enough financial firepower,” reacted Nick Mabey, chief executive of E3G, a climate think tank.

The G7 also disappointed by failing to set a clear coal exit date, pledging only “to achieve an overwhelmingly decarbonised power system in the 2030s”. The EU and UK were hoping to set a target date sometime in the 2030s but were held back by the US and Japan. 

More summits were lined up this week in Brussels, all of which had their climate chapter:  a NATO summit on Monday (14 June), followed by an EU-Canada summit, and an EU-US summit to cap it all off on Tuesday. 

Unsurprisingly, the same language around coal was repeated at all these summits.

In their joint communiqué, Brussels and Washington say they will “further accelerate the transition away from unabated coal capacity” and aim for “an overwhelmingly decarbonised power system in the 2030s”. No coal phase-out date mentioned there. Nor did it make the cut in the final communiqué of the EU-Canada summit on Tuesday. 

As it turns out, getting rid of coal is problematic even for a developed country like the US. “Fossil fuels, including coal, will be part of the global energy mix for decades to come,” said Democratic Senator Joe Manchin in a statement to the New York Times.

That isn’t good for Democrats trying to pass their green legislation as they rely on Manchin  a Democrat from the typically red, coal state of West Virginia to swing votes in the Senate, where they have a slim majority.

President Joe Biden will need all the support he can get to pass his ambitious infrastructure package and cannot afford to lose the West Virginia vote. He therefore had to back down.

“The US Senate is still dictating global climate policy,” quipped one Brussels-based journalist.

In those circumstances, it may be tempting to discount international summits altogether as useless talking shops (the NATO summit’s final communiqué, which mentions climate change 13 times is a textbook example). 

Yet that would be a mistake. International summits are all about timing and choreography, so it’s not surprising that the same wording gets repeated over and over again it’s a matter of consistency.

Crucially, what happens behind closed doors in private discussions between leaders is usually what matters most: Disputes can sour or be solved, agreements can be brokered or broken, in ways that may not immediately be visible to the naked eye.

Such is the disappointing reality of international summitry: the real outcomes are sometimes hidden from view and only become apparent with hindsight. When it comes to climate, the big international summit day is yet to come.

– Frédéric Simon

 

Top stories

 

This week’s stories

 

News from the capitals

HELSINKI | STOCKHOLM | COPENHAGEN. Three Nordic countries top sustainable development list. Finland, Sweden and Denmark have topped the list of countries making progress in implementing the UN’s 2030 sustainable development goals, a new UN report compiled with the German Bertelsmann Foundation finds. Read more.

OSLO. Norway’s licensing round for oil companies angers environmentalists. The announcement on 9 June by Norway’s petroleum and energy ministry inviting oil companies to apply for exploration blocks has upset environmental groups, including Greenpeace. Read more.

PRAGUE. Czechia ready for tough negotiations with Poland over Turów mine. The Czech-Polish legal dispute over the Turów coal mine has entered a new phase as Czech Environment Minister Richard Brabec confirmed that Czechia has sent a draft bilateral agreement concerning the mine to Polish authorities. Read more.

BERLIN | PARIS. German nuclear waste to remain in France after years of talks. Germany and France have agreed that 152 containers of nuclear waste from Germany are to be treated in La Hague in northwestern France, while only three to five containers will return to Germany as the country is contractually obligated to take back its nuclear waste reprocessed abroad. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. European Commission warns Slovakia about its environmental policies. The European Commission has advised Slovakia and 17 other EU countries to harmonise their environmental laws with EU laws to better protect the environment against invasive species as is required by and EU regulation of 2014, the European Green Deal and the EU Biodiversity Strategy. Read more.

BRUSSELS. Internal battle in Commission over ETS reform. The European Commission’s inter-service consultation over the measures for shipping included in the “Fit for 55” legislative package has resulted in a huge clash between DG Move and DG Clima, EURACTIV has learned. More.

WARSAW. Europe’s largest coal power plant announces closure date. Polish Energy Group (PGE), a state-owned public power company and the largest power producing company in Poland, has announced the dates it will be shutting down subsequent blocks of the coal power plant in Belchatow, Europe’s biggest coal-fired power plant. Read more.

 

News in brief

Czech Republic calls for fine on Turów mine violation. The Czech Republic has asked the EU’s top court to impose a €5 million fine for every day the Turów open-pit mine on the Polish/ Czech border continues operation despite a court order for it to cease production during the ongoing legal battle between the two countries.

“The Czech Republic asks the Court to impose a daily 5 million euro penalty on Poland for not having immediately ceased the lignite mining activities in the Turow coal mine located on the Czech border environment,” the Court announced on Twitter.

Poland has refused to comply with the order and the mine remains open. There are currently negotiations between the Czech Republic and Poland to look at alternative ways to make amends for the mine’s impact, but these are yet to be fully worked out. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com with Reuters)

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EU eyes climate ambition with US. There were big expectations from Europe ahead of the EU-US summit on Tuesday. Speaking on Monday, an EU official said: “With both the EU Green Deal and US ambitions on emission reduction targets, there is obviously an opportunity to continue the joint leadership on a global fight against climate change, leading by example.” That includes developing “an alliance on transatlantic green technology, an important part of making climate neutral, resource efficient circular economies”.

Ahead of COP26, a lot of climate diplomacy is needed, including through the work of the new Climate Action Group. Europe also wants to work with the US to ensure targets for monitoring and accountability in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, said the EU official.

Alongside this, the carbon border levy has ruffled feathers worldwide, but there will be an opportunity to discuss it with third countries once the European Commission is clear on its proposal, according to the EU official, adding, “The ‘how do we deal with carbon pricing? how do we deal with carbon leakage on both sides of the Atlantic, but also with other partners?’ is an important conversation that we’re having with all third countries.” Read more on the EU-US green technology alliance here. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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Climate protests get creative around G7 summit. Climate activists flocked to Cornwall in the south west of England to fly the climate banner with protests at the meeting of leaders from the world’s top economies. That included a protest by Greenpeace that used 300 drones to create a light display over one of Cornwall’s beaches. 

Some protestors from Extinction Rebellion also took a more traditional Cornish approach, knitting Cornish pasties, the county’s staple food, with messages like “Earth’s crust is burning” – a reference to the pastry – and “Climate Action. Proper Job” – utilising a classic Cornish phrase, which loosely translates as ‘well done’. Read more from the Independent.

Many criticised Boris Johnson for taking a flight down to Cornwall from London. The trip is about five hours by car or around six hours by train. Catch up on what happened at the summit here. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com).

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Access to justice revision should not overload the system, says European Commission. Swift progress by both the European Parliament and EU leaders is needed to reach an agreement in negotiations around the Aarhus Regulation, which gives access to justice on environmental concerns, said environment commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, at the meeting of environment ministers on Thursday.

However, he warned ministers about the workload their proposal could bring, saying, “We should avoid a situation where the system will be unable to cope with an avalanche of requests and where effective case handling becomes impossible. This can also have a negative impact on the Commission’s capacity to deliver on our joint political priorities – our credibility is also at stake here.”

However, ClientEarth environmental democracy lawyer Anne Friel said: “We find it deeply disappointing that the Commission continues to block EU compliance with international rule of law by alleging that the task is too burdensome. As Luxembourg’s Minister Ms Carole Dieschbourg said today, not only the EU’s credibility but the survival of the Aarhus Convention as a whole is at stake.” The full debate between the EU’s environment ministers is available here. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

 

Opinions

 

Upcoming events

24 JUNE. Fit for purpose? The role of renewable fuels on the road to 2030 and beyond. The renewable energy directive is due to be revised again, only three years after its last revision in 2018, and is already causing ripples as people speculate about the role of bioenergy and how Europe can meet its new climate goals. Speakers to be confirmed. Programme and registration here. (Supported by ePURE)

25 JUNE. What will be the cost of including transport and buildings in the EU ETS? With Adam Guibourgé-Czetwertynski, Undersecretary of State in Poland and more speakers to be confirmed, explore the impact of the European Commission’s potential inclusion of buildings and transport in the emissions trading scheme. Programme and registration here. (Supported by the Polish Economic Institute)

25 JUNE. MEDIA PARTNERSHIP: The blue economy in the green transition – European contributions to sustainable ocean management. Join Portuguese Minister of Maritime Affairs, Ricardo Serrão Santos, and Norwegian State Secretary, Jens Frølich Holte, to discuss European policies and initiatives for a sustainable blue economy and how these initiatives contribute to the global efforts for sustainable ocean management. Programme and registration here. (Organised by Mission of Norway to the European Union)

 

On our radar

DATE TBC IN JUNE: Second round of negotiations on Aarhus Regulation update. Negotiators from the European Parliament and EU Council are due to meet again with the European Commission to discuss the access to justice legislation, with a looming deadline of October 2021 for Europe to improve its implementation of the international agreement.

14 JULY: Fit for 55 package. The Commission is expected to table a huge package of green legislation in June, 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.

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